Girl on the Third FloorReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/02/19 12:46:17
SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: Horror movies aren't the only place where viewers can spot big missed opportunities, but because something either scares a person or it doesn't, they can seem like bigger misjudgments there. Such is the case with "Girl on the Third Floor", where it seems like there are a few opportunities that, if they don't pull the entire film together, are still perhaps a bit more unique or less random than well-executed haunted home improvement.That's what Don Koch (Phil "CM Punk" Brooks) is aiming to do, though he doesn't know that the place he's working on has secrets. He's got time but not a lot of expertise - he's a former finance bro who has cut a deal with the feds - and wants to have the place ready for a new start by the time his wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) gives birth. This place has challenges that might baffle even an experienced renovator, though - rot without apparent cause, sticky fluids in the walls, marbles that seem to roll out of nowhere. And, of course, there's Sarah (Sarah Brooks), the cute (and very interested!) young neighbor that represents another sort of temptation that has nearly wrecked his life in the past.
That particular vice is the one that ties into why the house is haunted, but it takes a while for the movie to get there, during which time writer/director Travis Stevens does a bunch of entertaining haunted house bits that, because the film is fairly sparsely populated and it doesn't look like writer/director Travis Stevens is going to pull a Psycho by switching up the protagonists, sometimes leans toward dark comedy as this guy who is obviously used to hiring contractors has to deal with supernatural interference on top of everything else that goes with renovating a house. He's got a strong enough handle on tone that it never goes too far down that path, especially since he and his crew are able to make the kind of moments between the real violence just gross enough to not get a laugh, and cranks things up when he wants to mess the audience up without going too far over the top.
The film is not so underpopulated that there's never a threat, either. Between Stevens and ex-wrestler Phil Brooks (who has the screen to himself a fair amount of the time), there's a fair chunk of effort into making the sort of arrogant twerp usually serving as a satisfying early kill into someone interesting. Don's physique, tattoos, and general attitude suggest a guy used to pushing people around and probably not nearly so reconstructed as his current project would suggest, but he never becomes the unlikable greed machine that often fills out the cast of these movies; he also comes off as a sort of splicing of Bruce Campbell and Crispin Glover when left to play off a house that's attacking him. Trieste Kelly Dunn makes the woman who loves him devoted but not blindly so on the other end of the phone, while Travis Delgado, Karen Woditsch, and Marshall Bean are more immediate foils. Sarah Brooks is playing a siren type, but doing it well; it's not surprising when she's got another gear to shift into.
The story can often be right on the ragged edge of just being a way to stitch random weirdness together, and that's especially frustrating because it often seems like things could fit together better. There's just enough of a line to be drawn from the house's former life and Don's history of bad behavior to create a bit of resonance, but the former is held back long enough that it doesn't quite map. Little details tend to hint at more interesting directions the ghost story could go - if a specter keeps up with the times and has enough character to be making choices rather than being completely compulsive, that may be kind of interesting to dig into.Maybe someone else will go that direction when they decide to make their haunted-house movie, perhaps even inspired by seeing the idea of it in the background here. Stevens mostly walks the expected line here, with jumps and creeps and all that, and winds up making a haunted house riff that's at the very least filled with pieces good enough to examine rather than shrug off.
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