Review: ‘1BR’ (L.A. Horror Story)

Community first. Always.

New to Los Angeles with big dreams of becoming a costume designer, Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) lives out of a motel room with her cat Giles while dodging phone calls from her father (Alan Blumenfeld) begging her to give up and come home. After attending an open house at an upscale apartment complex, her application is accepted for a single-bedroom suite with all the amenities… including an abundance of friendly neighbors. Little stresses start ballooning into big distractions as things go wrong, exacerbated by a lack of sleep and trying to keep the no-pet complex from discovering her beloved illegal roommate. Sarah soon discovers life’s little inconveniences are nothing to worry about when you’re part of a close-knit community… whether you like it or not.

From stranger danger to cult classics, stories about the sinister hidden beneath the safe and mundane often intrigue; Stephen King built his career on such observations. A couple stopping at a state rest area on an interstate traveling by day is nothing unusual, but a woman traveling alone by night may rightfully fear such a stop. Then there are films like MidSommar where assumptions about quaint traditional country folk are turned on their head just as much as their so-called guests. While places like unfamiliar cities, new neighborhoods, and even temp jobs can fill one with apprehension, it’s far scarier when all the red flags and warning signs are just another day for those already there. All fears aside, ever wonder how those folks got with the program?

Disclaimer: if anything read up to this point is intriguing enough to want to see this film, stop reading here; dancing around spoilers is difficult at best with a film like this. Writer and director David Marmor has reportedly turned his own observations of the L.A. newcomer experience into a paranoid psychological thriller with a dash of horror. While the setup is triggering enough for anyone afraid to go out on their own — and cleverly hints at more dread than observed — the production rests upon the capable and entirely game Nicole Brydon Bloom. As the doe-eyed fish-out-of-water being over-punished for a textbook horror-genre transgression, the story detours into cult-level Stockholm syndrome details, playing with tropes and taking them in interesting directions and setups. As a character trying to hold onto her morality and humanity while surviving in an unfathomable situation, Bloom plays Sarah with surprising strength in a believable arc that elevates the source material beyond its modest concept and financing.

Shot in just over two weeks while overcoming last-minute casting dropouts, California fires, and even a stolen production truck, every dime looks like it’s on the screen while the runtime is kept amazingly tight. This compressed timeline allows a few details to be overlooked, like a non-existent scene trying to keep a caged cat quiet while strangers help unload an unseen moving truck, one of a handful of missing details there was no time to explore. Susan Davis’s turn as old Hollywood royalty Miss Stanhope is a standout gem along with Giles Matthey’s pretty-boy Brian. Fatherly superintendent Jerry is brought to even-tempered life by Taylor Nichols while Clayton Hoff quietly steals scenes lurking in the background as Lester. 1BR accomplishes a rare balancing act between precisely blocked ensemble scenes and keeping its lead centered in-frame, not an easy thing to capture in a half-month shoot without a lot of experience, planning, and forethought.

Featured on the film festival circuit in 2019 before losing a promised limited theatrical run due to the 2020 pandemic, it’s a movie that deserves an audience. While the final scene feels a little contrived and maybe a bit obvious, it does grant Bloom one final flash of defiance that defines Sarah’s journey. When viewers discover what the film means by a “stress position,” don’t be too surprised comparing it to the edge of one’s seat.

1BR is not rated, but the production company’s logo is t-shirt worthy.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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