Don (C.M. Punk) and Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) Koch discover they are expecting a child and decide to move away from the big city. They buy a big house in the suburbs for a reasonable price, but it is a fixer-upper. As such, Don heads down early, while his wife is finishing a few tasks at her business, so it will run smoothly while she’s on maternity leave. Don is sanding, scraping, painting, and hammering to create the perfect home for Liz.
A few of the neighbors come over and introduce themselves, including the pastor from the church across the street Ellie (Karen Woditsch) and the good looking, roughly college-age woman Sarah (Sarah Brooks). Sarah and Don have chemistry, and given the rocky state of his marriage and life—Don defrauded investors and cheated on Liz—he gives into temptation one night. Now, it seems Sarah is playing mind games with Don. Or, considering the place’s history as a brothel, is there something supernatural going on?
Writer Travis Stevens’s proves two things remarkably well with his directorial debut, Girl On The Third Floor. First off, is an innate understanding of the ways horror films teach lessons in gruesome ways. Aside from being one of the greatest horror movies of all time, George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead looked at racial tensions in the United States at the time it was made; however unintentional, as the casting of Duane Jones as Ben was color blind. Stevens effectively takes that same idea, horror as a morality play and gleefully takes it to a bloody, icky level with several scenes that will make the audience squirm in disgust and delight.
“…considering the place’s history as a brothel, is there something supernatural going on?”
Milo (Travis Delgado), Don’s friend, comes to help over the weekend and the married man admits to his fling. Milo is close to Liz as well, so he feels torn about what to do. That indecisiveness leads to his death and Don believes he hears the severed head of Milo talking through the walls to him. It is an effective way of highlighting the guilt Don, a man who wishes he were better than he is, feels over his tryst.
Sadly, as Girl On The Third Floor continues, it succumbs to over-explaining itself. Liz comes a day or two after Milo’s death and she is unable to find Don anywhere. Ellie comes over, and the two women talk about the history of the house. This explanation kills the mystery so effectively established up to this point
This brings us to the second thing Stevens nails perfectly. That is the atmosphere and dread that permeates every shot and scene. While the story gets less involving once the movie switches focus to Liz, there are still plenty of thrills and chills to be had. Liz walks into the house after talking with Ellie, and there are finely dressed men and barely dressed women in every nook and cranny of the house. As she follows a little girl up to the third floor, the unease of what she’s experiencing is palatable, as the audience is on the edge of their seat hoping Liz makes it through unscathed.
“…Stevens effectively takes that same idea, horror as a morality play and gleefully takes it to a bloody, icky level…”
While C.M. Punk might seem like an odd choice for a horror lead, especially in his first movie (minus some voice work as an animated version of himself). However, the famed wrestler nails it, and he is quite empathetic as a conflicted man whose vices get the better of him. Dunn as his long-suffering, yet gentle wife brings a lot of heart to the role. Brooks as the lady messing with Don takes perverse pleasure in driving the married man over the edge. It is a spirited performance, whose wickedness still holds a bit of fun. Woditsch is calm as the pastor, which adds an exciting dynamic versus the worried Liz and the always put upon (in his head at least) Don.
Girl On The Third Floor has enough carnage and bloodshed to satisfy all gorehounds. Director Travis Stevens gets terrific performances from an excellent cast, and the atmosphere is consistently foreboding. The set design, cinematography, and gooey practical effects are fantastic to behold. However, the story runs out of steam before the conclusion, making for a not quite, but almost, great film.
Girl On The Third Floor (2019) Directed by Travis Stevens. Written by Travis Stevens. Starring C.M. Punk, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Sarah Brooks, Travis Delgado, Karen Woditsch. Girl On The Third Floor screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
8 out of 10 Apparitions