Doe-eyed daddies girl Sarah has bolted to the City of Angels. Still smarting from a painful family tragedy, she secures a place in an idyllic apartment complex. However, she comes to realise her vulnerability and crisis of identity have tickled the feelers of a ruthless and systematic cult.
David Marmor’s feature debut draws from his own personal experience of moving to L.A. He felt swallowed by its vast anonymity, and like his lead character, he longed for acceptance and a sense of belonging. In Sarah’s case, she desperately craves self-justification in addition to the reassuring approval of others. So much so, she ignores the blatant Rosemary’s Baby weirdness of the community she hopes to join, with stoic naivety.
The opening third of 1BR is ponderous and generic. But after the first rug pull, things liven up. The core themes of self versus unification and the forced reconfiguration of principles thrive at pace, and the film evolves a keen set of philosophical teeth.
As a horror flick 1BR is unafraid to get nasty when it has to, treating torturous violence with impersonal verve, like an existential mirror of Hostel. Don’t expect Martyrs levels of inhuman debasement, however, as the vibe here, is Stepford Wives with Stockholm Syndrome, rather than a skin flaying quest for enlightenment. That said, a palpable sense of helplessness ensues as we watch an innocent young woman succumb to the relentless assault of stress positions and psychological warfare.
As an examination of enforced reconditioning to recalibrate social selfishness the movie excels. The principal source it garners inspiration from is the evil Synanon organization. Harnessing the methodology of a 1950’s drug rehab cult as its main vantage point, and circumnavigating the hackneyed itinerary of Scientology and Manson based mind fuckery, suffuses the film with refreshing and subversive modernity.
The cast is engaging and committed keeping the melodramatics north of believable. Nicole Brydon Bloom’s Sarah is charming and annoyingly sappy in equal measure. Admittedly though, she does have an impressively expansive arsenal of crying styles. The most likeable character is Sarah’s brassy work friend Lisa, underused as a bookend to her cognitive deconstruction.
Ronan Landa’s intuitive score is a real standout that helps the action and the actors with subtle cues and ingenious spurts of emphasis. His music for the often overlooked horror film The Pact was similarly accomplished and nuanced.
The complex itself is well-realised and David Bolen’s camera work compresses the tension from its unassuming everydayness. He exhibits the same natural fluidity showcased in 2018’s gender drama Soni. This pragmatic and semi-distant approach channels a documentarian ambience, that translates here, into narrative credibility.
The all-important ending is a satisfying head messer but the parallels to another breakout indie horror, that I wont mention here, is unfortunate rather than catastrophic. The impact of the final reveal will depend largely on whether you have seen the other movie in question.
Lack of budget could have been a much bigger issue for 1BR than transpires. It’s clear the script has expansive ambitions, but is smart enough to know its limitations and doesn’t overreach at the cost of audience emersion.
More damaging could have been the huge problems that plagued the shoot. The original lead actress jumped ship after much groundwork, including the tireless procurement of a specific feminine energy drink. Two other major actors evaporated just prior to filming. Halfway through a production truck was jacked, and recovered after a brave pursuit by a plucky PA. Worse still, the production office fell in the path of the terrifying Skirball fire and had to be abandoned.
With all this in mind, it’s a testament to the strength of character of the filmmakers, and the stimulating premise, that the movie ended up in the can at all.
Fans of abduction movies will find much to enjoy in this intelligent horror thriller. It’s a fascinating delve into the mindset of a perverse ideology and a timely analysis of what’s ethical in challenging the intrinsic egotism of humankind.
Horror, Abduction Drama | USA, 2019 | 90 mins | 15 | June 8 2020, iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Google | Blue Finch Film Releasing | Dir.David Marmor| With. Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols