Sarah is a twenty-something aspiring fashion designer whose world is shaken after the death of her mother to cancer. To make matters worse, her estranged father had an affair while his wife was on her deathbed. This drives Sarah to leave home and move across the country to Los Angeles in hopes starting a new life. But I’ve been told finding a good place to stay LA can be tough.
Unlucky for Sarah (played by impressive newcomer Nicole Brydon Bloom) she finds Asilo Del Mar, “Affordable Luxury Apartment Living“. This gated apartment building seems too good to be true: a great location, spacious units, smiling uber-friendly tenants who love community cookouts in the courtyard. Sarah attends an open house for a recent vacancy but little does she know it’s actually an audition. More on that later. To her surprise she gets a call a few days later from apartment manager Jerry (Taylor Nichols) letting her know she can move in.
If the queasy perfection wasn’t enough to rouse your suspicions, things get weirder at night when Sarah is kept awake by loud creaking noises in the walls. And when she breaks the cardinal rule of “No Pets Allowed”, lets just say things get a little heated. The more I leave for you to uncover on your own the better, but suffice it to say things aren’t as they appear. And while it’s glaringly obvious the community has a secret, it’s eventually confirmed with a twisted (and gruesome) jolt. It’s followed by a slow-drip reveal that I found utterly gripping.
“1BR” is written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker David Marmor. His debut is a tense, uneasy thriller with a ‘ripped from the headlines’ appeal. Much of his story is inspired by communal cults, specifically Synanon, a Santa Monica cult founded in 1958 and disbanded in 1991. Marmor was drawn to the idea of pure intentions (Synanon was initially a drug rehab program) taking dark and violent turns over time. He also pulls from his own memories of being a twenty-something first moving to L.A.
The personal touches and real-world pulse certainly benefit “1BR” and its story. But it’s helped most by smart and efficient filmmaking. Marmor makes one good choice after another. He makes great use of his location. He never overplays his hand or exploits a situation. He uses gore sparingly but very effectively. And he wisely leans on his lead actress Bloom who is the narrative and emotional linchpin that holds the film together. The story puts Sarah through the wringer and Bloom handles it with a seasoned poise – never too big but always with the right amount of feeling.
“1BR” is an assured and well-made thriller, brimming with suspense and packing a sharp psychological edge. It’s also a movie featuring two eye-opening debuts, one from its lead actress Nicole Brydon Bloom and another from writer-director David Marmor, both certain to have exciting things ahead of them. The movie’s predictability in some areas may take away some of the intrigue, but watching it all play out is a blast and Marmor’s shrewd approach to storytelling ensures there is never a dull moment.
VERDICT – 4 STARS