Proof you shouldn’t talk to your neighbours
Cults are endlessly fashionable in horror, but it’s often difficult to make good use of them onscreen. It’s not even a spoiler to say Apartment 1BR revolves around a cult; the community into which our protagonist Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) is welcomed just screams cult from their creepy smiles and disturbing amount of eye contact. Perhaps it’s just my Finnish nature, but it simply is not normal to spend this much time with your neighbours.
We meet Sarah at the beginning of the film as she moves to the gorgeous city of Los Angeles. She views an apartment in a complex that promises affordable luxury living and this is definitely your first sign of trouble, as affordable, luxury and Los Angeles just do not mix. Sarah is chosen from a pool of interested renters and quickly moves in, smuggling her cat into the no-pet apartment. She soon begins hearing strange noises and becomes wary of the other residents.
Apartment 1BR reveals its cards surprisingly soon, although it made very little effort in concealing them in the first place. What starts out as a standard shocker develops into a more delicate examination of loneliness, community and co-dependency. Pretty heavy for a first feature, but writer-director David Marmor pulls it off with plenty of flair.
While the film doesn’t feature any A-list actors, it’s full of great character actors, such as Taylor Nichols, who just oozes cult leader charm and Naomi Grossman, who is best known for her work in American Horror Story. Susan Davis is charming as the elderly, but totally fabulous former movie star, Edie, whose story arc might be the most tragic one in the film. Marmor’s script doesn’t always utilise the dependable and magnetic actors, but all of them turn in solid work.
Nicole Brydon Bloom brings innocence and naivety to her role as Sarah. She often feels like a blank canvas that is just there to experience horror and terror together with the audience. During the film’s set up, she can come across as a little bland, but when things really kick off, and I mean REALLY kick off, Bloom shines. Giles Matthey, who plays Sarah’s neighbour and potential love interest has probably the hardest role and it’s a little hit and miss. Matthey is believable as the sweet boy next door, but as things progress and the role demands more nuance and dramatic turns, Matthey struggles to smoothly transition from friendly to menacing or afraid.
What’s interesting about the film is that it brings up similar themes to Ari Aster’s daylight cult horror Midsommar. Both are about a broken individual looking for a home or a sense of community but having to pay a hefty price for them. And of course, both feature cults. While Midsommar dug into its main character Dani’s mental health and explored its themes more deeply and tragically, Apartment 1BR still manages to find something to say. The film is less than 90 minutes long and it would have benefitted with an extra 10-15 minutes to really establish some of the relationships and to bring its themes together a little bit more neatly. This is the rare occasion where a film really could have been longer, because it has enough to say to justify that.
Still, it is an impressive horror debut. Filled with great performances and a surprisingly nuanced and delicate script which places mood and themes above gore. Never fear though as there is plenty of that too, this film is a treat for horror fans. It’s all executed with a sense of style and although Marmor’s style isn’t flamboyant or excessive, it’s there and it’s rock solid. Every now and then the film will surprise you with its elegance, often followed by a sudden sense of brutality or even vulgarity. Marmor delivers the whole package of frights and bloodshed, tied together neatly with a trendy subject matter. Apartment 1BR promises big things for the new kid on the block.
Apartment 1BR is available digitally June 8th.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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