A young woman moves to Los Angeles, against the wishes of her over-protective father, to become a costume designer, but when Sarah finds the perfect apartment community, everything suddenly takes a very dark turn.
With “1BR,” his first feature film, writer-director David Marmor takes a familiar story and creates a nightmarish reality populated by a seductively sinister Utopian community, traumatic personal sacrifices and a visceral and unsettling inoculation process that’s not for the squeamish.
“It’s weirdly autobiographical actually,” Marmor told BVB: Blood Violence and Babes during a recent phone interview, “because I moved to L.A. in my early 20s wanting to get into movies, and I moved into an apartment complex really very similar to the one in the movie. It looked eerily similar, actually.
4 out of 5 stars.
Run Time: 90 minutes
“There was something of the horror movie about that living situation for me. I was not used to living so far from home with nobody I knew and alone in this building, and you would walk down the breezeway and people would smile and wave at you, and you’d wave back, and there was always this thought in my head like, ‘I don’t know anything about these people.’ The way L.A. was for me, at least at that time, it never went beyond the waves. You didn’t get to know your neighbor. And there was this thought, you know, like if there was some emergency, these are the people I would have to turn to, and I don’t know anything about them.”
Still, Marmor said, when he first started making notes, all he had was a series of “scary things that could happen in an apartment.”
“It didn’t feel quite like a movie yet,” he confessed.
Horror movies, in particular, have always been at the forefront when it comes to showing exaggerated situations—especially with a female protagonist—that can occur when renting from and/or living around strangers. And, honestly, at first, “1BR” doesn’t feel too different from what fans have seen dozens of times before.
After being interviewed and selected to occupy the lone vacant apartment at the complex, Sarah is introduced to her new neighbors, a hodge-podge of familiar archetypes from the aging former Hollywood star, the power couple, the creepy loner and the stupid-pretty single guy who seems overly interested in her comings and goings.
The first night in her new space, Sarah hears odd plumbing noises in the wall. The second night, she awakens to discover someone had been inside her apartment. The following day a leaflet is shoved under her door, a not-so-subtle warning that someone in the complex knows she snuck a pet cat inside, a violation of the community rules.
And then “1BR” takes a hard swerve, and becomes the kind of white-knuckle genre thriller that has been noticeably lacking from theaters and in direct-to-DVD releases for some time.
After being captured and drugged, Sarah learns quickly that the men and women who live at and operate her housing complex are actually a “community,” meaning they all follow a systemic mindset and adhere to a very specific and strict list of tenets .
Sarah is restrained and placed in a stark empty room. That’s when the real fun begins as Marmor launches into a harrowing induction ritual that will determine whether Sarah conforms, and survives, or whether her apartment unit will be vacant once more.
Taking an idyllic apartment setting and infusing it with a cult mentality might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but Marmor said he found himself increasingly interested “in cults and utopian communities and religions, and especially the history of those in L.A., which I think, it’s kind of a breeding ground for that kind of thing, probably because there’s so many people like me who are arriving.
“People not from L.A., people alone, people who are seeking something, and that makes them easy prey for this kind of thing.”
When he combined the two disparate ideas, “1BR” finally took shape.
Marmor’s film feels fresh and innovative, in part, because the characters aren’t scary people, per se. They’ve all gone through the same trials that Sarah is subjected to. If anything, as a viewer, it challenges you to consider each person in a different light.
The other joy to be found in “1BR” is how Marmor expertly teases the existence of a much larger world outside of Sarah’s apartment complex, meaning there might just be a lot more similar apartment communities like it, all operating in Los Angeles.
“I thought the world out quite a bit beyond just this movie,” he said.
Now that “1BR” is finally available to rent or buy on streaming video-on-demand platforms, the real question is exactly how people should say the film’s title, which should be a familiar abbreviation to anyone who has ever scoured classified ads for available housing.
“That’s an ongoing debate,” Marmor said, laughing loudly. “In my head, I always said ‘One Bedroom’ when I was writing it, but so many people have called it ‘1-B-R’ now that I tend to call it ‘1-B-R’ as well.”
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.