Written & Directed by David Marmor
Starring Nicole Brydon Bloom, Taylor Nichols, Giles Matheny, Naomi Grossman, Clayton Hoff, Curtis Webster, Alan Blumenfeld
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Release date: April 24, 2020
Streaming on Netflix
Cults are scary. Unlike demons, vampires, monsters, etc., cults are both 100% real and 100% human. In the last few years evidence about the recruiting tactics behind the Church of Scientology and NXIVM have been detailed in docu-series and tell-all books. Los Angeles has its own storied history of cult behavior, most infamously The Manson Family. David Marmor’s new film 1BR captures the unsettling reality of modern cult behavior and gets to the core of things that terrify any and everyone who lives in a big city or an apartment complex. Who are your neighbors really? Who can you truly trust in your building? Who is really watching you from the security cameras? Add in some mesmerizing performances and you are left with one of the most tense psychological horror films of the year.
Premiering at Fantasia Fest in Montreal and distributed by Dark Sky Films, 1BR tells the tale of Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), who is leaving behind a sad past marred by a deceased mother, an estranged relationship with her father, and a growing need for anxiety meds. She visits the Asilo Del Mar open house with low expectations of actually getting the open 1-bedroom apartment there and notices the markings on the walls where there seems to have been some painting and spackling. “I’m trying to start a new life,” she says sheepishly to Jerry (Taylor Nichols), who runs the open house.
Sarah is shocked to get the apartment and there’s a complex-wide BBQ to introduce her to everyone. The hot single guy, Brian (Giles Matheny), the friendly yet sickly old woman (Susan Davis), Jerry and wife Janice (Naomi Grossman), and the creepy guy with the eye patch, Lester (Clayton Hoff) amongst many others. Almost immediately the dream apartment becomes a nightmare as Sarah is beset by strange noises, sleepless nights, shadows in the darkness, and secret notes about her illegal pet cat. When she awakens to a scene out of Fatal Attraction, it’s too late and she is drugged and readied to be conditioned.
Where a lesser film could play Sarah’s “breaking” by Asilo Del Mar as gratuitous and borderline torture porn, Marmor makes every ounce of unpleasantness matter to Sarah’s story and character arc. We as the audience need to go through it with her to build sympathy for her. She is a genuinely decent person, as many who are brainwashed and forced into cults are. And as the complex’s Jim Jones-esque leader, Taylor Nichols is chilling. “This is your home now.”
The film evokes memories of other cult films. I was reminded of Karyn Kusama’s 2015 film The Invitation as well as Ti West’s 2013 The Sacrament. But Marmor’s film managed to feel wholly original all the same. Sarah’s visceral physical torture is matched by her psychological torment. This film more than any I’ve seen shows the complete deconstruction of a person and then the cult’s repurposing of their mindset to fit ta mold. This is complete with a “bible,” The Power of Community by Charles D. Ellerby (Curtis Webster) as an L. Ron Hubbard type. This second act lasts longer than most movies would allow, nearly half the runtime of the 91 minutes is dedicated to Sarah’s initiation.
A movie like this can only work as well as its cast. It’s a character-driven story, in which everyone shows an incredible range of emotions. Nicole Brydon Bloom carries the weight for the film and is an absolute star in the making. There’s an amazing scene between Sarah and her father (Alan Blumenfeld) and Giles Matheny toes the line between charming and psychotic at the drop of a dime.
The biggest compliments I can give 1BR are a) with 15 minutes left I had no clue how the film would end, and b) it felt scarily realistic. Who knows how many Asilo Del Mars there are in LA right now, or in your own quiet neighborhood? You find yourself questioning whether Ellerby’s “Power of Community” can work… and then you get scared of yourself for even wondering.
1BR is currently at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and is available to stream now on Netflix. For a first-time feature-length writer/director with first-time producers and a first-time lead actress, this was a tremendously impressive, genuinely unsettling film that deserves to find both an audience and a spot in Top Films of 2020 lists. 1BR is the subject of the next deep dive horror review on The Lasser Cast podcast on YouTube, which you can find here.