Sarah is looking for a fresh start. Estranged from her father and lacking direction, she’s relocated to Los Angeles because ... well, why not? Most people come to the City of Angels to build a new life, so why not her? Though she’s yet to find steady work, making ends meet by working as an office temp, she does have a stroke of luck when she finds an affordable apartment in a complex where all of the tenants are very close. They have cookouts together, look out for the elderly among them, help newbies move in and are, across the board, very friendly ... very, very friendly.
Director David Marmor’s big-screen debut “1BR” is a modest, effective horror film that, while lacking a significant budget, gets by with a straightforward, taut script that’s timely in its pointed political agenda. Using its lived-in location setting to great effect, the movie benefits greatly from a handful of strong performances, while the filmmaker adapts a brisk pace, ensuring the film doesn’t overstay its welcome and preventing the audience from picking the story apart.
Nicole Brydon Bloom is very effective and game as Sarah, who eventually, much to her detriment, uncovers the reason why everyone is so close in this urban oasis. Brainwashing is at the core of the “group think” the tenants share, and their belief system and the way people are converted to it is not without its irony.
The beliefs they adhere to, as outlined in “The Power of Community,” are morally sound at their core. Helping and giving back to others in order to form a cohesive, loyal community seems a common-sense approach by which all would benefit, and on the surface, this seems sound. That all these people seem damaged in some way only makes them more vulnerable to adopting this way of life.
All the residents take a special interest in elderly B-movie actress Mrs. Stanhope (Susan Davis), a kindhearted woman suffering from dementia who’s nearing the end. Alone and afraid, she is looked after by the community, which is comforting; that is, until things go a bit too far. Marmor’s script is quite smart in the way it shows that no matter how sound an ideology may be, if taken to extremes, it ceases to be a benefit to its followers, ultimately harming those who adhere to it.
The apartment complex where the film was made is obviously a real location, and its worn, lived-in nature lends the movie a sense of authenticity that helps make the horror all the more immediate. Marmor also uses the compound-like structure to great effect in creating a sense of claustrophobia, its interconnecting, turning hallways suggesting Sarah has been trapped in a maze where there is no escape. That so few scenes take place outside this setting underscores its prison-like nature.
Marmor’s third-act twist doesn’t seem forced, while his climax provides a sense of catharsis for the audience and allows the filmmaker to instill in us one last bit of dread that makes the whole endeavor worthwhile. The ideological beliefs the residents believe in are hardly confined to the complex where they live, a point driven home in a powerful way during the movie’s final scene.
Belief systems have a way of creeping into the most unexpected of places, insidious tendrils snaking through the foundations of the most seemingly solid of foundations. Though it may have the air of respectability, evil is all around us, an on-point sentiment that “1BR” drives home with chilling effectiveness.