WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD.
Everyone wants good neighbours. When Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), a young woman newly arriving in Los Angeles, finds a seemingly perfect apartment complex with friendly, helpful residents, she can’t wait to move in. Sure, she’s breaking their ‘no pets’ rule but what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? Naturally, the apartment isn’t what it seems. Strange noises come from the walls at night, and when she realises someone knows about her cat, events take a deadly turn.
Written and directed by David Marmor, Apartment 1BR is a well-put-together, occasionally wince-inducing film with a strong thread of claustrophobic dread present almost from the outset. It’s obvious that the friendliness of the other residents is a cover for something darker but when the mask finally slips, it’s surprisingly brutal.
The residents are to all intents and purposes, a cult: a reliance on each other; rejection of the outside world; a set of rules; and the willingness to punish transgressors. Frustratingly, there seems to be no satisfying explanation for the cult’s existence, other than ‘world bad’. Yes, the cult members speak about their deceased founder and the rules he devised to create a global community but not what the members get out of it. This isn’t a hippie commune living in a shed on some remote island but a rather nice apartment complex in one of the world’s largest and most expensive cities.
Presumably, the residents have well-paid jobs that require them to leave the building. How does the experience of being told what to do 24/7 and having nails driven through their hands to initiate them outweigh…literally anything else? Sure, having someone carry your washing is nice but is it really better than, say, not being terrorised?
This is Apartment 1BR‘s biggest weakness. Religious cults in cinema work because they aren’t expected to make sense. However, a cult smack bang in an urban setting where the outside world still exists outside the front door needs a bit more detail to feel ‘real’. Plus, and at the risk of labouring the point, while everyone needs an oasis of calm and friendly neighbours, could this not be achieved via movie nights instead of nails-in-hands and cats in ovens?
Sarah, of course, does stay in the ‘community’ but mostly that’s because she’s never left alone and it’s often hard to be certain whether she’s been broken or is playing a role. Two events – a visit from her estranged father (Alan Blumenfeld) and the arrival of a new resident – test Sarah’s loyalty. The first event is wonderfully written and directed with the tension ratcheted up to pull the film back to a taut thriller.
Unfortunately, those scenes are few and far between and a handful more, preferably exploring Sarah’s interactions with other residents, would have really elevated the film. Thankfully, there’s enough in Apartment 1BR to hopefully keep the viewer interested to find out what happens next. Sadly, there’s also a lot of wasted opportunity to really build on solid foundations, which is a shame.
Apartment 1BR is a decent addition to the ‘mad cult’ subgenre with good direction from Marmor that keeps a rather predictable story interesting before arriving at a ‘love it or hate it’ ending.
Apartment 1BR is available to buy and rent on digital now.
Director: David Marmor
Stars: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols
Runtime: 90 minutes