This article contains spoilers.
I went in completely blind to David Marmor’s feature-length directorial debut, 1BR. No trailers, no reading a synopsis. Really, it’s the best way to go into a movie—especially a horror movie, but I must admit it doesn’t happen for me nearly enough. I’m just a sucker for trailers, plus I have to review press kits a lot, all kinds of reasons. But when I have zero expectations, it’s impossible for a movie to fall short of them. Granted, it’s also impossible for a movie to exceed them, but I maintain, I’m most likely to be impressed if I just walk in with as little context as possible.
This is to say, if nothing else, 1BR got a fair shake from me. My initial reaction to the first 15 minutes or so of 1BR was a bit of indifference as Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) fumbled her way through a new job and the awkwardness of getting to know her neighbors. Initially, I felt like I’d just stumbled into yet another generic horror movie where I found myself struggling just to reach the end. And that sucks because, while I don’t really mind writing negative reviews, so much as I just struggle to find anything to say when I don’t like a movie. I feared the worst.
Then one of the neighbors in this movie puts Sarah’s cat in an oven and, well, I perked up a bit. I’m really just a simple creature. If you want to get my attention in a horror movie, bake someone’s beloved pet. I’ll go wide-eyed every time.
1BR is a horror film about a cult that inhabits an apartment complex and their attempts to brainwash Sarah into becoming a member of this cult. They torture her psychologically, emotionally, and physically, all in an attempt to undo the “bad conditioning” brought about by living in American society.
This movie came out about a year ago, back when most of us still disagreed with the cult. Today? It’s not like this cult doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Are we not all products of bad conditioning? Are we not sick and depressed and anxious and half-insane from living in this society? Now more than ever, doesn’t it seem like the easier way out is to just say “f*ck it” and join a cult? Let someone else do all the thinking? Be pointed to a simple job that allows us to contribute and not have to worry about anything else? Of course, it’s enticing. Cults aren’t that tough of a sell when you really think about it. There’s a reason they continue to gain members no matter how batshit insane the members are. We’re all tired of navigating in this hell hole called society. Is it really so insane to want to leave it and join a bunch of people with a sense of community? In 2020, you’d be insane NOT to at least consider it.
As I watched 1BR, a recurring question proposed to Sarah is “Do you want to be a part of this community?” She continues answering “no” until she finally relents and says “yes,” but I found myself sitting on the couch answering for her, and my answer was “kinda.”
Of course, no, I’d never really join a cult, and I don’t condone cults in any way. They’re harmful to everyone involved, they strip people of their individuality, they’re dangerous, often deadly, and members rarely dress well. Also, there’s sexual assault and abuse to consider. Don’t join a cult. But as to how people can ultimately be convinced to join one anyway? I get it. Oh, boy do I ever get it.
Sarah is convinced to willfully join the cult and, of course, like all cults, it basically turns out to be a sex thing. Her role is to marry—or at least play house with—the one-eyed community weirdo, Brian, played brilliantly by Clayton Hoff. Matthey gives my favorite acting performance in 1BR. Everyone was great but his acting really stands out.
Fortunately for Sarah, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, as Brian is somewhat empathetic to her apprehension about joining the community and understands her desire to escape. That light becomes muddled when one of Sarah’s friends ventures into the apartment complex and is captured and imprisoned for “reconditioning.” She essentially convinces Sarah that, enticing as it may be, allowing these people to think for her is not what’s in her best interest. It’s Sarah’s life and Sarah should be in control of it.
I don’t know, Sarah. I really just don’t know. I mean, you’re smart, you’re a strong independent woman who don’t need no man, all this is true. And I have no doubts you can fight your way out of this cult. Even when the cult ends up being much bigger than you ever imagined in a brilliant plot twist. But I want you to sit down and think about what’s coming. COVID-19 lockdowns, idiots refusing to wear masks because they think they know more than scientists, police brutality, mass riots, Tiger King, unemployment, and maybe…just maybe four more years of Trump.
You might have an okay thing going with this cult. I mean yes they’re psychotic but they also have your back against the outside world. If America is currently a massive prison—and it’s seeming more and more like it might be—that cult is the prison gang protecting your ass from the rest of gen-pop. You might not like the cult, but you may very well need them. Just some food for thought, Sarah.
I’m not going to delve in-depth into the ending. It’s left open-ended to a degree, but I felt like it was a hopeful ending. I personally think Sarah got away, but perhaps she didn’t. Even if she got recaptured and killed she didn’t go down without a fight.
All in all, 1BR is a clever, smart, tense, and suspenseful ride that I quite enjoyed. I’ve never seen anything David Marmor has done prior to 1BR, I know he did some TV work and some shorts, but whatever his next feature film may be, I’ll definitely be checking it out. There’s a ton of talent behind 1BR.
In the end, I can’t speak for anyone else but 1BR left me wondering if we’re entering a time where cults and cult-like organizations might become more the norm. As regular society seems more and more insane, I think we’re going to see a lot more division. And in that division I can see a lot of tight-knit communities emerging. Communities not entirely unlike the one in 1BR.
For the record, I’m not claiming 1BR is a political horror film. It’s really not. It is a bit of a social one though. I’m not sure if that was entirely intentional or not, but either way, it’s a thinker and a truly well-made film that I’ll probably be watching again in the near future.
What did you think of 1BR?