CAPSULE: 1BR (2019)

DIRECTED BY: David Marmor

FEATURING: Nicole Bloom, Taylor Nichols, Giles Matthey, Celeste Sully, Clayton Hoff

PLOT: Sarah’s a newcomer to LA with shaky job prospects and no friends; after being accepted into an apartment complex, she finds out too late just how close-knit the community there actually is.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a psychological thriller/horror movie about the dangers of community, which is a unique angle. However, the creepy unease that ensues isn’t anything we haven’t seen before (though typically in less-worthy examples).

COMMENTS: There is a lot to be said for making a good “genre” picture: a familiar story told well with a novel twist is hard to find. I am not insulting David Marmor and his crew when I say that 1BR is a story I’ve seen before—I’ve made it my business and pleasure to watch countless movies—because Marmor’s take on this particular story was ceaselessly well presented and kept me hooked from start to finish as I wondered how Sarah (Nicole Bloom), an imperiled newcomer to LA, would play her hand. In fact, of the five movies I watched the day I sat at 1BR‘s press screening, it’s the only title that I can presently recall.

Sarah is a young costume designer who is adrift in life, literally and metaphorically. Having recently left home and gone to LA, she has no real job prospects, no friends, and no home. She finds a job, of sorts: temping at a law firm. She gets a friend, of sorts: a vibrant co-worker named Lisa (a sassy Celeste Sully). She finds a home. Her initial joy at being accepted into an exclusive apartment complex, stuffed to the gills with apparent-neighborliness, turns into undefined ill-ease. What are those strange thumping noises at night? Who is writing threatening notes about her forbidden pet (her cat named “Giles”)? And what is it that’s so disconcerting about the two bulges on her flat-room wall? We know something is about to go wrong—and things go very wrong for young Sarah.

Plenty of psychological horror explores the fear of darkness and the dangers of isolation. 1BR swaps those for an unsettling hyper-illumination as it explores the even greater dangers of community. This group of smiling, happy people she’s ended up with are close-knit to the point of annihilating their individuality. Of the tenets practiced by the tenants, one struck me firmly. Though based on some West Coast cult figures, I was reminded of nothing so much as Maoist-era “struggle sessions.” This criticism of the group’s certainty of its correctness running against the individual’s shouldering of blame was pitch-perfect: there are prices for cohesion that are far too high.

I’ve had an interesting time discussing 1BR with other reviewers and I think I’ve done a fair job dissuading them of their initial dismissiveness. It would be overwhelming and ultimately unsatisfying, as well as impossible, if every movie we saw was Completely New. 1BR captures the suffocation of the coercive integration of a fully free individual into a monolithic social unit. Would-be social messiahs like Charles D. Ellerby (who devised the community’s creed) would do well to realize two things: you are never “always right,” and it takes all sorts to make a world. Ending on a note of very cautious optimism, Marmor’s debut gives us just enough hope that we can escape the doom of INGSOC-esque terror. We’d just better be prepared to run like hell.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Marmor’s feature debut, which takes a new arrival to Hollywood and puts her in an apartment complex whose residents have scary plans for her, is a cousin of Rosemary’s Baby in which the occult is replaced by mere brainwashing and the eerie glamour of Central Park luxury decomposes into the generic architecture of a Los Angeles starter apartment.” -John DeFore, The Hollywood Report (festival screening)

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