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Girl on the Third Floor Review

October 28, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Girl on the Third Floor
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Girl on the Third Floor Review  

Directed by: Travis Stevens
Written by: Travis Stevens

Phil Brooks – Don Koch
Trieste Kelly Dunn – Liz Koch
Sarah Brooks – Sarah Yates
Elissa Dowling – Sadie
Karen Woditsch – Ellie Mueller
Travis Delgado – Milo Stone
Marshall Bean – Geary McCabe
Anish Jethmalani – Attorney Manny Bharara
Bishop Stevens – Patrolman Weaver
Tonya Kay – The Nymph

Running Time: 93 minutes
Not Rated

It’s seemed for a while that haunted house stories were on the outs. After the failure of Crimson Peak at the box office in 2015 followed by Winchester last year. horror filmmakers seemed to take away the message that audiences were tired of films in which the heroes aren’t smart enough to just walk out of the ghost-infested home they were staying in, and the films largely went the way of the dodo for a while.

That said, there’s a reason that haunted house movies are harder to kill than the ghosts who populate them. A good story about a home filled with the restless dead resonates with audiences for a variety of reasons, and the success of Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House shows that people will watch when given proper enticement.

That’s the ground that Girl on the Third Floor hopes to encroach on. Dan Stevens’ film has mostly been getting attention for its casting of former pro wrestler and MMA fighter CM Punk in the lead role. That’s the kind of attention that you need for a small independent horror film like this. And while in many cases it would also reek of stunt casting, the acting is one of the elements that keeps the movie afloat for most of its running time despite a few rocky patches relating to the plot.

The film stars Punk (billed under his real name, Phil Brooks) as Don, a man who has moved out into the suburbs ahead of his pregnant wife Liz (Dunn) in order to fix up the house they just bought. Don’s a guy who has a lot of baggage, having just barely avoided some jail time, and is determined to use this house to get a new start. From the start though, the house seems to be fighting any attempts to fix or clean it up. Gunk drips from the outlets, new drywall gets rotted through.

Things get worse for Don when his other neighbor, the young and attractive Sarah (Yates) stops by. Things start to spiral out of control for both Don and the house, as secrets regarding both start to come out. Don doesn’t seem to be the guy for the job, as much as he assures his wife otherwise via regular phone calls throughout the film. His new neighbor Ellie (Woditsch) has some vague warnings; when his friend Milo (Delgado) stops by to help, he’s bemused at how ill-prepared Don is. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Girl on the Third Floor represents Brooks’ first full-fledged acting role. It’s certainly a hefty challenge for him, as Stevens basically puts the entire weight of the film on his shoulders. Much of the movie involves Don either dealing with the house or dealing with one of the characters who stop by, and it falls upon the former wrestler to keep the tone and flow of the story going. For the most part, he’s up to the task. It would be disingenuous to say that he’s a stellar actor right out of the gate, but he comes off as natural and real here.

Buying into Don’s story is easy, thanks in large part to Brooks’ work. He never tries to smooth down the edges of the character to make him more likeable and isn’t afraid to bring out an ugly side. But it’s also not just the enhanced type of heel portrayal his fans remember from his time in the ring. This isn’t CM Punk delivering a pipebomb, or Brooks trying to embody someone else’s character; he makes the role his own and for the most part, he succeeds.

Stevens is making his feature directorial debut with Girl on the Third Floor, and it’s easy to appreciate the fact that he has a distinct vision for this film. His script, based on a story by Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker, is minimalist at first before it starts to unfold in the second act.

There’s a lot more to this than it first lets on, and Stevens doles that out at a decent pace. The whole metaphor of the house’s secrets and rotten core as Don’s own past isn’t entirely subtle, but Stevens never feels the need to shout it in the audience’s face either. It’s enough to see how the house and its tricks are creeping into Don’s head, and the audience can easily connect the dots.

Stevens also has a solid eye for horror that serves him well. There isn’t a ton of gore or violence to be found here, but when it comes it is shocking and effective. In its stead, Stevens has plenty of gross ooze and fluids to expel from the house. This is the kind of film where the viciousness is more implied than it is outright stated; most gross-out moments before the final act generally come when Brooks discovers some new disaster within the house. And like Bruce Campbell – who he resembles in a way I never noticed before – he’s more than game for it.

All that said, this is far from perfect and there are some real flaws, largely in the final act where it all falls apart. Stevens has some great ideas and you can see what he was going for, but it isn’t as effective as he clearly wants it to be. After the solid tension of the first two acts, things go off the rails into crazy horror and it feels like a jarring tonal shift. There are still some effective scenes – one particular “face in the wall moment” causes quite a jolt – and Dunn, who is more featured here than previously, makes an engaging presence.

The problem, such as it is, comes in that Stevens has a point he’s making with this film. While it’s built up effectively in the first hour-plus of the running time, by the end it feels like he’s rushing to flash the neon sign for those in the audience that don’t get it. Even then the ride is filled with enough creepy imagery that it works better than it should, though there’s a sense that if he had gone into the end with a little more confidence in the methods he’d used up to that point, the film would have been better for it.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Travis Stevens' Girl on the Third Floor is a solid-enough haunted house film, given much of its strength through a strong acting debut by Phil "CM Punk" Brooks. Brooks delivers a promising performance and carries the film down a few sketchy plot decisions, while Stevens' directing makes good use of the low budget to keep things tense and creepy when it needs to be. The film threatens to go over a cliff when it has to rush through the end, but it stops just short of the edge and allows Stevens to pull it back. While by no means an instant classic, this is an enjoyable little fright flick that speaks to both Brooks and Stevens' potential to do bigger and better things moving forward.