GORE IN THE STORE
GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR ****
Directed by Travis Stevens. Starring Phil Brooks, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Sarah Brooks. Horror, USA, 80 mins.
Reviewed in London at the Arrow Video FrightFest August 2019.
Renovating a house was never as much hard work as husband and expectant father Don, Phil Brooks, quickly finds out in Travis Steven’s directorial debut. Stevens, known for his producing duties on a number of indie features such as WE ARE STILL HERE, CHEAP THRILLS and STARRY EYES among others makes an impressive, interesting debut with his gory and gloopy take on the haunted house genre.
Brooks, better known otherwise at the moment under his wrestling name CM Punk, plays the aforementioned Don. Aside from struggling with the demands of his spacious new home single handledly, he is also struggling with issues from his recent past that involve visits from the FBI. To add to these pressures are the constant outpourings of a disgustingly, viscous substance that oozes from the electrical fixtures and marbles that seem to roll around of their own will. Hoping to complete the renovations on his own in preparation for his heavily pregnant wife Liz, Dunn, he soon finds himself increasingly distracted by the seductive presence of Sarah, Brooks, a woman who seems to come and go mysteriously of her own volition.
GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR has a simple set up and the template is there for a predictable storyline but Stevens, with co-scriptwriters Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker, provides ample room for detours that take the story in unexpected and surprising directions. Brooks makes an impressive leading man with a performance that at times manages to invoke Bruce Campbell in the exasperation stakes and his adeptness at taking a punch, and much more, and pratfalling. Impressive enough but he also displays his range with the surprisingly dark turns that his character takes.
The films low budget is masked by its small scale. The few locations, particularly the spacious house provides enough space for supernatural mayhem that trades in such otherwise serious issues of infidelity, substance and physical abuse in a way that evokes Clive Barker, especially his 2001 novel COLDHEART CANYON. The appearance of a certain spectral figure is also reminiscent of his Cenobites with its warped and gruesomely distorted appearance. The soundtrack, composed with the help of grunge legend Steve Albini, helps the films unsettling atmosphere which often lets its events unfold in the cold light of day to great effect, going against the grain of other similarly themed efforts in the genre.
The story slightly falters in the latter stages by quickly explaining away its key mystery at such a pace that it could be easily missed if not paid enough attention or even for the hard of hearing which with my own constantly wax blocked ears was unfortunately the case for myself. The abuse angle is soon skimmed over before the film takes another path to explore choosing instead to dwell over the more crowd-pleasing, EC Comics style elements of a flawed man suffering gory maladies.
However, the idea of a structure containing and sustaining echoes of devious physical activity through the years proves its intellectual and metaphysical ambitions just as much as it does with its eye wincing displays of gore and violence. Brooks shows considerable skill in distancing himself from his sporting persona and also makes the viewer curious to see what he could accomplish in the genre in the future. Small in scale it may be but it also proves that Stevens has as much skill in directing with this first run as he does in producing, leaving fans of the genre to see what he can accomplish with his next effort behind the lens.