Note: This review was originally published as part of Grimmfest 2019 coverage. It is being re-published due to a title change as part of the UK VOD release.
Los Angeles, California, the mecca of celebrity, fame and excess. It’s also the current home of the Scientologist Celebrity Centre, and previously hosted residents of the People’s Temple and of course, The Manson Family. Perhaps it’s the heat, the expanse of space or the deep desire to feel connected in an area embedded in fakery, but LA seems to have a knack for dredging up the mentally malleable oddballs that become so easily embroiled in cult behaviour.
David Marmor’s dive into the world of LA cults in his debut 1BR finds a classic tale in one woman’s desire to head west in hopes of a successful new life. Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) is a costume designer who moves to LA with her pet cat− much to the dismay of her parents− and finds that the only work available is a temp at a law firm. Luckily, she does manage to secure herself a real steal of a flat at the Asilo de Mar apartments. More like a close-knit community that simply tenants being ruled over by a miserable landlord, Sarah is instantly surprised by the group BBQ’s happening down in the yard and that just about everybody introduces themselves to her, once tenant even handing her a book called ‘The Power of Community’.
Everything seems perfect until the pipes start to creak at night and shadows frequently scuttle past her door at night and the Rosemary’s Baby influences becoming alarmingly present. Of course, as an audience we know that it’s not all in Sarah’s head and the threat is very, very real, but Marmor handles the film with such precision that when it gets dark, its pitch black. Often boasting mouth-agape shockers, 1BR’s moments of violence are so swift and blunt its impossible not to gasp.
When Sarah is put through rigorous ‘programming’ by the community to become one of their success stories; the levels of psychological torment almost outweigh the physical ones. This idea of success in Hollywood is much like the one told in under-the-radar horror hit Starry Eyes, but Sarah’s story of indoctrination surpasses those initial stages and follows her journey deep into cult behaviour and regime. There’s a fantastic close-up shot of Sarah’s face pretty early on when her eyes seem to change and dilate, fully giving herself over to the programme. This deeper dive into the routines of cult behaviour and how it changes a person was a surprising turn for this type of film; they typically seem to spend the whole story figuring out what’s going on. Due to this the pacing was spoiled a little, the climax felt like it came too soon, and the earlier moments of Sarah’s indoctrination and psychological breakdown are much more interesting than her striving to be accepted by the leaders.
Packing some shocking punches and offering moderate commentary on the lengths people will go to for success, 1BR is a disturbing cult horror updated for the 21st century. There are no talks of satanism and blood sacrifice, just people wanting to have a good career and a sense of community at any cost, and that’s probably the most disturbing aspect of all.
Apartment 1BR is released on VOD in the UK from June 8th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She is a costume designer and trainee teacher living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Twitter @sqchloe and on Letterboxd here.