★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Travis Stevens
As we’ve all come to learn in the horror game, a haunted house, no matter how haunted, does not a movie make. For that matter, a bunch of spooky trappings within a haunted house, also does not a movie make. Horror movies truly are a collective happening. The script must be beyond reproach. The soundtrack needs to be chilling yet wholly relatable. The acting must fit neatly within a creepy pocket. If any one element has a collective breakdown the film falls in to chilling cacophony of chaos.
Unfortunately, while 2019’s Girl on the Third Floor’s heart was in the right place, it lacked in ways that made it rather difficult to fit all the horrifying pieces and parts together as a cohesive spook show. Directed by first time director, Travis Stevens, the film’s premise is both simultaneously uncommon and common that plays more to exceptional special effects than a coherent story. Girl on the Third Floor follows a recent ex-con with a baby on the way. This ex con, Don (played by former WWE personality CM Punk), is replete with his own personal demons, foibles, and raft of poor decisions. In order to right the familial ship he decides to purchase a charming home in middle America. A little elbow grease, some time alone to contemplate his forthcoming child, and a dash of American know-how will certainly afford him the space he needs to tend to his abode and his mental state of mind.
Don’s poor decision-making is front and center as he signs on to significantly repair a former brothel whose tortured inhabitants have chosen to NEVER leave. Don is met with bodily fluids, lots of fluids. They seep from the sockets, the sink, and the ceiling. Each fluid is more fetid than the last, but Don is not deterred from the task at hand. He’s got a committed wife and a baby on the way and this his final chance to redeem himself and prove once and for all that he doesn’t need booze, pills, ladies, or the grift. Puritanical work is what will wipe the slate clean.
Of course his grit and determination is quickly (maybe ghostly) met with booze, pills, and ladies. In a Fatal Attraction-esque dynamic, Don saddles up with the a bewitching local, Sarah (Sarah Brooks). Their evening is steamy, but the morning after? That’s where the haunting begins. Sarah dons her best Glenn Close and begins to put Don in supernatural stranglehold. He continues to try to do right by his Skype-at-the-ready-wife and unborn child, but his past and that of the house slowly become intersected in a haunted morass. Don and his wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) unearth hidden mysterious of the freaky brothel, its clients, and the slimy ectoplasm they’ve all left on this mortal plane.
Girl on the Third Floor begins, but just barely, to suss apart an interesting relationship with the neighboring pastor and her funky world view. While the film lightly pokes at her knowledge of the house’s secrets, the pastor is really just employed as a not-so-clever exposition dump. The pastor’s character and the waring interplay between the physical church property and the brothel really could have and really should have been the movie. The other really quizzical element that the film offered was its soundtrack. Culled together by producing legend Steve Albini, Girl on the 3rd Floor is crammed with emo-hardcore-doom-and noise stalwarts like Converge, Big Black, Neurosis, and Bastard Priest. These bands have all of the subtly of…well they have no subtly. They’re a bold choice, but much like Don’s poor decision making, don’t really contribute to a spooky atmosphere.
Girl on the Third Flood certainly has some spectacular special effects, brutal brutality (read: a dog in a dryer), and some swell acting performances by Liz and Pastor Ellie, but the collective cohesion never really comes to any profound scares. Merely telling an audience that a house is haunted does not make a compelling horror film.
Girl on the Third Floor is likely Rated R. Release date: October 25, 2019.