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  Apartment 1BR Cult Following
Year: 2019
Director: David Marmor
Stars: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols, Alan Blumenfeld, Naomi Grossman, Celeste Sully, Susan Davis, Clayton Hoff, Ernestine Phillips, Hailey Giles, Andrea Gabriel, Hannah Altman, Curtis Webster, Jay Pennick, Andrew Carrillo
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) has just moved to Los Angeles, mainly to get away from her father who she feels betrayed her mother when she was terminally ill, but also to make a fresh start in life. She gets a job as an office assistant, answering telephone calls under the thumb of a tough boss, and sets about looking for a decent apartment to live in. On one of these excursions, she chances upon a complex where everyone seems friendly, the place is well maintained, and it's at an affordable price - too good to be true? She almost doesn't pursue it, being a timid young woman, but is glad she did when her offer is accepted and she moves in shortly after. One thing though: they don't allow pets...

You think the presence of Sarah's pet cat will be a sticking point when she receives a message scrawled on the landlord's form threatening her for keeping the moggy, but it's more complex than that as those early expectations this, er, complex was a little too perfect start to press down on her. That’s because she is absolutely correct, indeed there's nothing too positive about this block, never mind its tight security arrangements or its communal swimming pool, the apartments there are populated by crazies who have joined their own cult, accountable to nobody, which holds sway over them in a way they are happy to go along with. And if they are not happy, they pay the price.

Basically operating from the premise, "What if Scientology or NXIVM ran your life?", or any number of cults that brainwash their members either with threats, coercion or blackmail, Apartment 1BR (or simply 1BR if you saw it with its original title) was an obviously low budget little horror, but evidence that once again, if you have a strong script you can work wonders on slender resources. First time feature director David Marmor was blessed with a keen eye for a claustrophobic setup, and that was in his favour when he ramped up the tension around what effectively became a prison for his main character; Bloom was also a bonus, a credibly fragile and uncertain soul who cannot escape her bonds.

Or at least she cannot see a way out, and her agreeable personality allows some very nasty people to treat her appallingly, even as she recognises there is something very wrong with the way events are unfolding. To turn that around, the film was also a take on how normalisation of victimisation can happen with alarming ease, as if the word has gotten out that Sarah is not conforming well enough so she ends up being tortured mentally and physically to ensure she does not step out of line, or even her apartment block, ever again. The reasons for this are never entirely apparent, but you can infer them as the story progresses: the victimisers pick a victim because they get a thrill from control, it satisfies a need that is very uncomfortable from an outsider's perspective.

Each time it appears as if Sarah might have a chance to get away, she either doesn't take it or it is closed down, leaving her in a limbo of psychological distress she has nobody to share with: Bloom was able to indicate her character's inner turmoil without actually having to admit it to anyone. We can tell she would love her freedom - and ironically, her safety, one thing the cult claim to offer - but she doesn't have any method of getting it. This sense of hopelessness will either shut down your sympathy for Sarah early on or keep you watching in the knowledge that Marmor was not about to spend the entire film not allowing his put upon protagonist to get her own back somehow, though to say any more would be to give too much away. Suffice to point out that the further you follow her journey to a mental straitjacket, the keener you are for her to lash out at her deluded tormentors. Although it was a basic plot, it did compel. Music by Ronen Landa.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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