A-Ron’s Stream It Or Skip It: 1BR (2020)

•”1BR” is available to stream as a rental or purchase on Vudu• Written and directed by newcomer David Marmor, “1BR” draws on the fascination of apartment communities that has a terrifying premise baked into the film. Marmor does a good job of setting things up and keeping the tension through most of the film. While Marmor could have pushed the envelope a bit more on it’s world building and of putting our lead character Sarah through the wringer. It feels like the first part of a larger story and while I can’t see this getting a sequel, you find yourself hoping that it happens. “1BR” is a smart, satisfying thriller that will make audiences re-think the idea of “the perfect apartment”.

“1BR” is supposed to be in a limited theatrical run, but is currently stuck in limbo due to our current events. Thanks to streaming service Vudu, “1BR” is apart of their early access collection. Where selected indie films in limited theatrical runs are available to stream for rental or purchase in the comfort of your home. 

Written and directed by newcomer David Marmor (no not David Mamet, although that would have been something). Marmor draws on the fascination of apartment communities (obviously right there that tells you he has a love of Polanski), and has created an entertaining survival story whose depiction of psychological teachings of accepting a set of beliefs, far outstrips Marmor trying his hand at the horror genre, with his generic attempts into physical torture. 

“1BR” revolves around Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), who is new to Los Angeles, actively pursuing her dream of being a costume designer and escaping from her unsupportive father Gus (Alan Blumenfeld). She’s stuck at a terrible temp job and sleeping in a low-rent motel, but she happens upon an open house in an apartment complex that looks perfect, but it just might be too perfect. Initially, Sarah is dismayed by the number of potential tenants vying for the coveted unit, but landlord Jerry (Taylor Nichols) encourages her to apply and shortly thereafter she receives word that the apartment is hers.

Initially, it’s like a dream come true, where the apartment is gorgeous and the other residents are the sweetest they can be, especially when it comes to attractive neighbor Brian (Giles Matthey) and faded movie star Edie (Susan Davis), who has an excruciating scene and whom Sarah quickly develops a nurturing rapport with. Living in this perfect community comes with it’s problems for Sarah. 

One is keeping her cat Giles hidden in a “No Pet” environment, which becomes an early source of conflict (if your a cat lover you’ve been warned). More significant, though, are the loud banging noises from the pipes on the opposite side of the wall where her bedroom is, that keep her awake all night and leave her with no sleep, exhausted and frazzled come the morning.

There’s a terrifying premise baked into “1BR”, and since Marmor’s film is part horror movie. The question is not if there is danger, but what is the danger? On the surface, there’s nothing intrinsically threatening about Sarah’s new abode outside of Lester (Clayton Hoff), the creepy eyepatch wearing resident who tries to peddle off a book to Sarah called “The Power of Community” during one of the community’s many BBQ’s. 

Is it something supernatural? Or is it her vaguely threatening neighbors in the style of “Rosemary’s Baby”? Is it rape/revenge? Marmor’s script plays things relatively straight to establish who Sarah is and to introduce the members of the community. The first act is filled with uncertainty, right up until the end of the first act when Sarah wakes up and makes a grisly discovery. 

But after the reveal in the second act, Marmor quickly answers most of the outstanding questions. From there Sarah’s nightmare begins…but to say more would ruin the surprises that lay ahead. Director David Marmor does a good job of setting things up and keeping the tension through most of the film. He leaves you unsure of who to trust or what will unfold and his use of the apartment building was an impressive and smart choice. 

Marmor’s characters has a Stepford quality to their congeniality that, Marmor mixes with real-life details culled from ex Scientology members’ accounts of life in groups. One of Marmor’s characters is the movie’s L. Ron Hubbard stand-in. Charles Ellerby (Curtis Webster) who created the films four ‘foundations of Selflessness, Openness, Acceptance and Security. It’s interesting to see how they get implemented.

Lead star Nicole Brydon Bloom effectively anchors the film. She does what she can with what she is given and exudes wide-eyed innocence and her approach of being somewhat conventional for the genre, is wholly believable. She isn’t up to the level of current scream queens like Florence Pugh (“Midsommar”, “Little Women”), but she has potential to get there.

The vast majority of the violence is psychological, but that doesn’t mean that “1BR” is bloodless. When Marmor puts Sarah through the wringer and does introduce blood in a pair of scenes, I wish he had pushed the envelope a bit more. On the other hand it does makes the violence all the more effective because of the film’s prior restraint.

Marmor’s screenplay has just the right amount of realistic technology and conditioning techniques to come across as not only credible but frighteningly realistic. While the cinematography by David Bolen, never quite reaches the same heights as its masterful opening with elongated, smooth shots gliding through the apartment complex. The colors and lighting (especially the night shots) are spectacular throughout and is especially true as “1BR” builds towards its frenzied climax.

I wished that Marmor expanded the world a bit more. Gleaning more information about the school within the complex, or why pets aren’t allowed. It would have only add layers to the already deep ideas the movie explores.

The climax teases a big idea and it almost acts as an origin story for Sarah, but then the credits roll just as it gets going. It feels like the first part of a larger story and while I can’t see this getting a sequel, you find yourself hoping that it happens.

David Marmor executes his premise like a pro and for his first major project, he definitely has potential. He lays down a cult-horror framework, where the results are a mostly successful and an engrossing merger of ambition, talent, intrigue, and fear. “1BR” is a smart, satisfying thriller that will make audiences re-think the idea of “the perfect apartment”. I can dig the ideas presented in “1BR” as it has a lot to say about what a person is willing to sacrifice to be happy and if said sacrifice is worth it and “1BR” is worth it indeed. 

GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3/5) – Stream It!

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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