During my quarantine movie quest, I came across 1BR, a 2020 horror film written and directed by David Marmor, starring Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey and Taylor Nichols.
The film focuses on Sarah, a girl who moves to LA to pursue a career as a costume designer and becomes the new resident of Asilo Del Mar Apartments.
Let me start by saying this movie brings to life one of my greatest fears. Every time I’m looking for a new apartment, I have an internal meltdown. Will the other tenants be noisy? Is this a safe neighborhood? Will the landlord be creepy? (If you’ve seen the movie 13 Cameras, you’ll know what I’m talking about).
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING could have prepared me for this. To start, I did not get good vibes when Sarah first moved in. Everyone in the complex was smiling and helping each other or relaxing together in the common area… When does that EVER happen?! And in LA of all places! Apparently, Sarah’s danger senses were not tingling because she seemed very comfortable, and even pleased with this atmosphere. That was puzzling to me… What millennial has any sense of “community”? The next thing that had me scratching my head was when Sarah was introduced to some of the other tenants; A doctor, a lawyer, an old Hollywood actress… how can a temp afford an apartment that these professionals live in? Sarah should have listened to the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
Well, Sarah does end up moving in, with her cat (the contract clearly stated pets were NOT allowed), and the first night she is kept up by the incessant sounds of pipes creaking and rattling. After a few sleepless nights, she receives an “official letter” from management about the pet policy, with a not-so-nice handwritten note about being selfish for sneaking in a pet (the note was a bit more vulgar, but you get the gist). Gotta love nosy neighbors!
Things just go downhill from here. Sarah is exhausted from the sound of the pipes keeping her up all night, her dead-end temp job is making her work extra hours without pay, and she missed the extended deadline to apply for design school. When Sarah finally falls asleep one night after having dinner and drinks with a coworker, she is suddenly awoken by the blaring alarm of the smoke detector. She cautiously scans the apartment and finds the oven on, a bright fire emanating from within and clouds of smoke filling the room. Atop the stove is the pet policy notice… I’m sure you can imagine what Sarah finds when she opens the oven door.
Sarah is ambushed and tied to a chair by someone in dark clothing and a hood. In the light, she can see it’s Brian, her cute, and so she thought, friendly and helpful neighbor from down the hall. Confused and terrified, Sarah breaks free from the restraints and sprints down the hall, screaming for help, but strangely the other tenants just watch…What happened to the overly welcoming neighbors of yore?
She is stopped by a tenant (the doctor I mentioned earlier) and thinking she is out of danger, lowers her defenses. Well, the doctor detains her, and she wakes up tied up yet again, this time surrounded by all the members of the complex, with the manager of the complex, Jerry, in the front. Looks like we have a cult situation on our hands. Poor Sarah was trying to start anew in LA and make something of herself, and she finds herself imprisoned within a modern-day cult. If this doesn’t prove that you should live at home and sponge off your parents for as long as possible, I don’t know what will.
Sarah spends the next long months confined to one room with boarded-up windows. She is forced to listen to mind numbing music while standing with her hands to a wall in a “stress pose” whenever red lights are illuminated. She is given the cult’s “bible” to study the four foundations of community. It seems the cult follows the teachings of Dr. Charles Ellerby’s book, which preaches about the “ideal community”. Sarah must be able to recite the four foundations and take lie detector tests daily until she proves that she is ready to be accepted as a loyal member of the community.
After months, Sarah finally complies and is inducted into the community with a brand on her neck and a party. She is then given tasks so that she can give back to the community. She is to review the security cameras with Brian, which are all over the complex, including in tenants’ units… yes, even the bathrooms (gross). She is then to report anything out of the “norm”. She is even allowed to watch the new possible resident selection at the open house. This is when we find out how Jerry picks candidates…it’s quite typical of what you’d imagine criteria would be for inducting someone into a cult; a weak-minded individual with no ties who is looking for love, acceptance, and answers. Well, apparently Sarah fit that to the tee; a young woman who recently lost her mother to cancer, whose father cheated on said mother while she was sick and dying, and who wanted to get away and start a new life.
When Sarah sees her strong-minded, independent coworker, Lisa, filling out an application for residency, we see a look in her eye that leads us to believe maybe she hasn’t been completely brainwashed after all. When she is chosen as the new resident and imprisoned to endure the same grueling and painful tasks that Sarah had, she proves to be quite resilient and resistant, forcing Jerry to resort to punishment. When he asks Sarah to help by holding a rather large screwdriver to her ear so that he can hammer it into her skull, we think that yes, maybe Sarah has indeed been brainwashed and Lisa is screwed. (Pun intended)
Sarah is internally struggling to maintain order and please Jerry, while being her own person and doing what is moral. Just as Jerry is about to strike the hammer onto the screwdriver, Lisa reminds Sarah that “this is your life”, something she said to her months prior when Sarah was struggling. With that, Sarah snaps out of her trance and stabs Jerry in the neck with the screwdriver…so satisfying.
Unfortunately, this does not kill Jerry (always remember the double-tap rule from Zombieland), and he shoots Lisa in the head as they rush to escape the confines. Sarah throws the hammer at him, stunning him momentarily, picks up the gun that he dropped and shoots him multiple times in the chest…How I do love overkill.
Sarah escapes the complex to the sounds of alarms blaring and finds herself outside in civilization. She sprints down the street until the alarms are barely audible. She stops to catch her breath and surveys her surroundings; the entire street seems to be full of apartment complexes and the one she stands before has a surveillance camera affixed to the top of the secured gate and a symbol near the name on the banner… The same symbol that was branded onto Sarah’s neck… Just then, each and every apartment complex sounds an alarm and the dark street is illuminated with blinking red lights.
To Sarah’s dismay, and the audience’s equally, we conclude that the cult is much more widespread than we originally thought. Very unsettling.