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Review: Girl on the Third Floor Brings Scares with a Side of Blunt Messaging

The film is loud and obvious about declaring its themes, as if to distract from their ultimate shallowness.

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Steven Scaife

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The Girl on the Third Floor
Photo: Dark Sky Films

If you’ve ever wanted to watch Phil “CM Punk” Brooks put up some drywall or get metaphorically ejaculated on by a haunted house, Girl on the Third Floor has you—and, well, him—covered. The tattooed ex-wrestler brings a boiling Matt Dillon sort of energy to the role of Don Koch, an unsavory guy searching for a new start in the suburbs with his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn). He buys a fixer-upper and begins making the house a home, which means cleaning up ominous stains, fixing molded walls, and pitching whatever used condoms lie around the floor. But the house, as the film’s characters say straight into the camera more than once, is a sort of test, and Koch isn’t performing well.

Girl on the Third Floor is an assured feature-length directorial debut from Travis Stevens, producer of such indie horror films as We Are Still Here and Starry Eyes. He gets the most of the house’s empty space through wider shots, often framing his protagonist between walls and doorways. And he fixates on small processes, as scenes often linger on Koch fixing a pipe or tearing away the wallpaper. And many of the close-ups capture him sticking his head or hands into an enclosed space like under the sink or into a hole in the wall.

Koch has opted for a macho DIY approach to the renovation, using minimal assistance despite not really knowing what he’s doing. A friend (Travis Delgado) chuckles at how few tools he’s brought for the monumental task, so it’s perhaps inevitable that as Koch attempts to make the house in his own image, it pushes back against him and his personal notion of masculinity. Sinks, sockets, and wall outlets ooze and spew things on him that look like bodily fluids, as though the house is intent on covering him in its blood, sperm, and shit. To top it all off, a mysterious co-ed, Sarah (Sarah Brooks), keeps hanging around and making eyes at him.

Stevens manages to craft a few chilling images, through the gross, squishy secretions of the house or something as simple as Koch slowly drilling a camera into the wall to see what’s inside. But as a critique of toxic masculinity, the film feels thin. A bad man is punished, and then various hasty third-act monologues neatly lay out not only the story behind the house, but the nature of Koch’s transgressions and the perceived wokeness of his resulting punishment. Girl on the Third Floor demonstrates Stevens’s visual promise as a horror director, just not so much as a writer. Like Ari Aster’s Midsommar, it’s loud and obvious about declaring its themes, as if to distract from their ultimate shallowness, their general absence of psychological complexity, or probing truths about humanity.

Cast: Phil Brooks, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Sarah Brooks, Elissa Dowling, Karen Woditsch, Travis Delgado, Marshall Bean, Anish Jethmalani, Bishop Stevens, Tonya Kay Director: Travis Stevens Screenwriter: Travis Stevens Distributor: Dark Sky Films Running Time: 93 min Rating: NR Year: 2019 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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