In the middle of a horrifying housing crisis, 1BR holds up a mirror to the isolation and desperation crushing the greater population of Los Angeles. Hollywood and the surrounding areas may be viewed globally as a home for opulence, but the majority of Los Angeles county lives closer to the poverty line than the shoreline. These extreme levels of impoverishment come with about two dozen cults masquerading as sub-culture, a mortifying picture of co-dependancy, a coerced dismissal of personal rights, and loneliness.
Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), a recent Los Angeles transplant, needs to find a place to live. She also needs to get into college. Oh, and Sarah needs to figure out how to navigate her uptight boss. She’s the blueprint for every mid-twenties late bloomer. The apartment hunt has been a nightmare with limited funds, but then she finds the perfect apartment. The space is close to work, affordable, and comes with one extremely cute neighbor.
Unfortunately, the property is owned by a cult, obsessed with making a perfect community. Prone to extreme measures—that’s one stringently enforced “No Pets” policy—the group, known only as CDE Properties, watches the little colony 24 hours a day. Their tried-and-true method of converting new tenants includes sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and threats of extreme pain. Sarah does her best to resist these tactics while simultaneously convincing her captors that she’s becoming one of them.
That balancing act creates a wonderful challenge for Bloom. Most of the torture Sarah faces is mental, which requires Bloom to perform a thousand different moments in just a few seconds. One of her best scenes takes place when she tries to beat a lie detector test. The manipulation has begun to have an effect, and Sarah wonders if the CDE way of life might have some value, but she hasn’t yet given up hope of escape. De facto leader Jerry (Taylor Nichols) sits opposite her, and the two have an emotionally charged, terrifying staring contest. Bloom teeters on the edge of screaming in hysterics, giving up and fighting for her life.
In his feature film debut, writer/director David Marmor crafts a chilling survival story in the sun-bleached desert and stark fluorescent lighting of wearisome offices. I’ve always felt Los Angeles was a hideous city and that it took a real genius to find the beauty in the so-called City of Angels. Robert Richardson and Quinten Tarantino did it with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Curtis Hanson and Dante Spinotti captured the hazy light of LA County in LA Confidential. Using an iPhone6, Matthew Cherry and Richard J Vialet captured the melancholy feel of the bright lights at night in 9/Rides.
Marmor and his cinematographer, David Bolen reject the beautiful for the hideous. Production designer Ricardo Jattan uses a ton of white space to create a feeling of vast emptiness. It’s not until the final sequence of shots that the city can be seen to hold a touch of beauty. Given what Sarah’s been through and knowing all of the ugliness hidden underneath, this hint of visual attractiveness almost feels like a slap in the face.
A visceral expression of fear and longing, 1BR could be a new cult classic. With incredible performances, a solid twist and the possibility of a franchise sequel, 1BR aims high. The good news is the film hits most of its targets. It’s absolutely worth the price of a movie ticket—watching with an audience will help this particular effort hit home.
Director: David Marmor
Writer: David Marmor
Starring: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Taylor Nichols, Naomi Grossman, Alan Blumenfeld, Giles Matthey, Andrea Gabriel
Release Date: July 18, 2019 (Premiered at the Fantasia Festival)
Joelle Monique is a Rotten Tomatoes-certified critic. A graduate of Columbia College Chicago, her passions include movies that sit at intersectional crossroads and high stakes drama TV. You can find additional work at Pajiba and follow her on Twitter.