Here’s the buy-in moment for “1BR,” a “forced-to-join-a-cult” thriller given a healthy dose of horror movie torture porn.
New tenant Sarah has awoken after a few sleepless nights of banging noises have kept her awake in her (supposedly) one bedroom apartment. She smells smoke. There’s something in the oven, and seeing as how she wasn’t supposed to have pets here, we fear the worst.
Sarah sees the worst. Sarah is assaulted. Sarah is taken hostage. And contrary to what a normal human reaction might be to any one of these might be, Sarah shows us her poker face. No freaking out at what’s happening to her, entirely too little crying in horror at what’s been done to her furry companion, no frantic struggle through the shock.
Just Nicole Brydon Bloom, not giving away if her hole cards give her that full house.
That’s a HUGE hole in the center of this sadistic and sedate debut feature from writer-director David Marmor. Some of it works, little bits of misdirection here and a full-blooded finale there.
But Bloom, in what should be her big break, gives us nothing to hold onto, little to root for and a passive turn that is partly how the character is written but mainly the blank-faced range of the heroine.
Sarah moved to LA “to start my life over.” She’s taken a temp job and she has a place to stay. But the ad for the Asilo del Mar is too enticing. Who cares that she has to lie about having a pet on the application? Yes, she has only a temp job, and one of the couples she meets there is a doctor married to her lawyer. “This should be out of my price range” never enters her mind.
And apparently she flunked high school Spanish. “Asilo del Mar” means “Asylum by the Sea.” Who names an apartment block that?
Jerry, the manager, maybe? He’s played by Taylor Nichols, who first came to fame thirty years ago in “Metropolitan,” playing an earnest thinker who could talk your ear off, even back then.
That’s handy, because that’s what’s going on the night when Sarah stops being a tenant and starts becoming a member of “The Community.” Jerry talks a bit, and threatens a bit more.
Sarah under-reacts to every insane thing, from injections and “stress position” with cheesy pop music torture, or other stuff involving a hammer.
“It’s not crazy,” she’s assured. “It’s science.” She’s being “conditioned.”
My jaw dropped. Bloom’s never does.
Jerry, with the aid of everybody else in the complex, doesn’t just commit physical violence against Sarah. He sadistically breaks her will with words.
“Sarah, no one’s coming for you.”
Is she cunning enough to escape? Does she have the will to try?
The test of the movie is whether we’ll instinctively root for the standard white-girl-in-jeopardy and accept the physical abuse, mental anguish and humiliations Sarah must endure before figuring out if she can fight back. Because Bloom? She gives us nothing.
The other characters are quickly sketched in — the elderly failed-actress neighbor (Susan Davis), the creepy one-eyed guy (Clayton Hoff), the hunk who keeps inviting her to cook-outs and dinner parties (Giles Matthey), a would-be support system that includes a Dad (Alan Blumenfeld) she’s semi-estranged from, and a brassy co-worker (Celeste Sully) who is everything mousy, meek and passive-faced Sarah is not.
None of them really pop off the screen as potential heroes or villains. Nichols stands out, and that’s about it.
I don’t like to single out actors as being the reason a film fails, and maybe this was Marmor’s doing — not getting terror or dread out of his heroine. But this is dull, unengaging acting in service of a slow-footed story that marches through some over-the-top “conditioning” towards a pretty inevitable conclusion.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity
Cast: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols, Susan Davis, Alan Blumenfeld, Celeste Sully
Credits: Written and directed by David Marmor. A
Running time: 1:30