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1BR | Review

Cult Gestalt: Marmor Explores Urban Horrors in Efficient Debut

David Marmor 1BR ReviewThere’s apparently more than one way to define rent control, at least as suggested by David Marmor’s effective and efficient debut, a likeable low-budget horror film 1BR. A notch above the usual American indie horror offerings, Marmor’s narrative is certainly predictable but efficient use of limited locations and calculated performances recalls a variety of arthouse horror icons, particularly Polanski’s celebrated Apartment trilogy (Repulsion; Rosemary’s Baby; The Tenant), at least in its basic themes. A likeable Nicole Brydon Bloom presents a likeable lead performance, which is perhaps assisted by some of the staged ambiguities about her commitment to a new ‘community.’

Sarah (Bloom) has decided to pursue a career in costume design against her father’s wishes. Moving to Los Angeles on a prayer and a dream, she finds immediate solace in an overly welcoming apartment complex, with landlords Jerry (Taylor Nichols) and Janice (Naomi Grossman). She makes immediate friends with the elderly Edie Stanhope (Susan Davis) and shares a flirtation with the handsome boy next door, Brian (Giles Matthey). But then, there’s the creepy, one-eyed Lester (Clayton Hoff) and the fact someone appears to be angry Sarah has brought her feline friend along to live with her. She finds a job as a temp, making a quick friend in the outgoing Lisa (Celeste Sully). Things take a drastic turn for the worse when the apartment complex community reveals they have other intentions for Sarah.

A supporting cast of random notables adds to some unexpected intrigue, including Taylor Nichols of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990) and Naomi Grossman, best remembered as Pepper from “American Horror Story.” Meanwhile, character actress Susan Davis, herself playing a forgotten Hollywood alum, is a nice touch. Anyone who has experienced living in a Los Angeles apartment complex, small or otherwise, will immediately interpret the set-up of 1BR to be woefully unrealistic, which Miss Stanhope introducing newcomer Sarah to some unrealistic ‘elites’ of the apartment community—but then Marmor’s narrative swiftly confirms these moments are meant to serve as glaring red flags, one its ignorant heroine would ostensibly not immediately pick up on (a bigger stretch is her employer telling her to clock out and continue working to finish some reports). But then, Sarah is meant to be a vulnerable adult, her familial dysfunction (a similar scenario used to explain how Colm Feore as Chloe Grace Moretz’s father in Greta would also assist in his daughter’s abduction) a means to justify a dramatic end.

While Sarah’s mental brainwashing could have used a little finesse, Marmor’s inclusion of a Juice Newton cover to play over her ‘branding’ suggests a morbid sense of humor. Like a fascist, urban pocket community akin to the white flight participants in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004), Marmor explores the inherent fatalism of ‘connection’ at any cost, and creates a likeable sister film to something like Karyn Kusama’s well-staged The Invitation (2015), even utilizing a similar red-light special with which she ends that film.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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