Dir. David Marmor (2019)
A young woman moves into a new apartment that is actually part of a bizarre society run by the ethos of a behavioral psychologist.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Like most of the people reading this and many of the folks who write reviews for their chosen genre of movie, I have a life outside of these digital walls. I’ve taken my fair share of college classes and have a couple of pieces of paper to prove it, and almost none of my formal education relates in any way to reviewing movies that make you jump in fear. I’ve always been fascinated by behavioral psychology and the sociology of groups like the one portrayed in this film, so it’s really interesting to see a theoretical society run by folks who are ardent disciples of the works of Skinner, Watson, Piaget and the like. What’s most interesting about 1BR is that, no matter how crazy things get, the group at the heart of the film actually has a point to a certain extent in insisting that society is fundamentally damaged and that there are parts that it wouldn’t be all that bad to escape from if given the choice. As good as the film is on all levels, that’s where David Marmor’s psychological horror film really shines in a way that most don’t, by making the audience feel that part of them wonders if the horrors that the characters are subjected to are even all that bad given the benefits received once they’re done.
For those not into the greatest psychological minds of the 20th century, thankfully there’s plenty of old horror staples to go around. Marmor builds a masterclass in tension, ratcheting it up throughout and keeping you guessing until the cult itself is actually revealed to be just that. It isn’t too far into the movie that we find out what’s going on, but the layers created within the boundaries of the apartment complex peel back over time, giving the audience a view of the different segments of this insular society and revealing how they work together to create a symbiotic groupthink culture. There are clear parallels to other real-life cults, with a creepy leader behind it all that we never even really get to meet and a group of devoted disciples who would willingly go through hell to achieve the goals of someone they’ve never met. There is also an undercurrent of emotion running throughout, punctuated with some horrific scenes that will bring to mind some of the best of Ari Aster by showing us the inevitability of death and the different ways people approach the feelings surrounding it. It’s also just so… possible. The realism of the film, and the fact that it could happen to literally anyone who finds a great deal on an apartment, is absolutely terrifying.
The movie is filled with fantastic performances, especially those of Taylor Nichols as the Jerry, who leads this merry band of tenants, and Nicole Brydon Bloom as Sarah, the woman who is new to LA and desperately wants to find adequate living arrangements for her and her feline companion. The music in the film is wonderfully chosen, providing a great soundtrack of happy melodies to punctuate the scenes of carnage and abuse. You never quite know during the film who is evil and to what extent they will be, nor is the audience ever able to completely reckon whether they’re evil at all or just true believers. Those are the scariest people in any cult, the people who forsake what should be common feelings because they really buy into every facet of the organization to the point where they deliberately choose things that are detrimental to themselves for the good of the group. Edie, the old woman who Sarah befriends when she moves into the complex, receives a particularly interesting ending for her character, one that firmly establishes the group’s eternality by showing how they will always be able to find new members.
For Sarah, of course, Edie draws a line in the sand between what makes sense within her new world and what simply can’t be tolerated, what’s too much for her own sensibilities. It is Edie that spurs Sarah to action, planning her own escape from this bizarre world back into the society from which she initially fled. The audience knows that her familial relationships are damaged beyond repair, however, and we wonder if things will actually be better for her if she is able to finally make her escape. I guess we’ll find out in 2BR, the proposed sequel that I sincerely hope will be coming soon. This is a world that has a lot more stories to tell, and is perhaps the best commercial possible for owning your own home. Century 21 should issue a copy of this to everyone that comes to an open house.
Who this movie is for: Psychological horror fans, Cult horror lovers, Landlords
Bottom line: I avoided this one for a long time because it never looked good to me. Don’t make the same mistake I did, because David Marmor has written and directed a fantastic film here filled with stellar performances and a decidedly indie feel. It’s a smart film, one that deserves far more attention than it has received and will hopefully be releasing a sequel soon. Bloom and Nichols are fantastic, the music is perfectly matched, and there’s really nothing not to like about the film. Give it a watch, you won’t regret it.