GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)
Directed by Travis Stevens
Written by Trent Haaga, Paul Johnstone, Ben Parker (story), Travis Stevens (screenplay)
Starring C.M. Punk, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Sarah Brooks, Elissa Dowling, Karen Woditsch, Travis Delgado, Marshall Bean, Anish Jethmalani, Bishop Stevens, Tonya Kay, Eileah Pyrzynski
Find out more about this film here!
I’ve heard a lot about GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR. Many people have championed it for its frightening imagery. My local pals are quick to acknowledge the fact that it was filmed outside of Chicago and features some local Chicago punk bands on its soundtrack. Both of these details are true and total plusses in terms of the film’s likability. For me, though, the film has just as much going for it as it does going against it. It’s a fine fright flick, though it has some fundamental flaws that I just couldn’t overlook.
Wrestler C.M. Punk aka Phillip Jack Brooks plays Don Koch who recently purchased a house in the suburbs of Chicago. While his very pregnant wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) packs things in their home back in Chicago, Don is making some extensive home renovations in the new house. Turns out the new home has a sordid history (as all homes do in this type of film)—it was a brothel where perverted and diabolical things were done under the roof. As Don breaks down walls and makes his renovations, it seems to shake loose some evil spirits that are after his soul.
Though I don’t follow current wrestling, I know about C.M. Punk. He is a genre geek as much as he is a talented athlete, so it is nice to see that he does handle the dramatic bits required in this role very well. While the multitude of tattoos all over his body might limit him in terms of what kind of characters he can play, this role works for him as Punk is playing someone with a dark past himself. He’s in search of redemption and though he looks like the bastard child of John Hamm and Bruce Campbell, he still plays this role of the fallible hero very well. This is crucial as most of the film centers directly on Punk/Brooks/Don and we are forced to empathize with him most of the way through.
This is where the problem of GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR begins to occur. About thirty minutes in, Don makes a choice that immediately makes him kind of an asshole and definitely someone you don’t want to root for. The problem is that Don is in another forty-five minutes of the film and we are forced to be on the shoulders of this asshole for the duration of the film. While this could make for an interesting character piece, the film presents itself as a spooky horror flick and not a dramatic deep dive into a troubled psyche like, say, JOKER. Don’s decision comes back to literally haunt him and he doubles and triples down on unlikable acts as the story goes on. Still, we are forced to empathize with him when the horror happens to him. I didn’t buy it and I found myself rooting for his ultimate punishment. I won’t reveal here whether or not he gets it, but because so much time is spent with Don, it puts the viewer in the awkward position of rooting for a despicable guy who doesn’t even understand how despicable he is being.
This directly leads to my second beef with GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR, that being a dramatic shift in perspective in the last twenty or so minutes. I understand the draw is C.M. Punk here. They want the wrestling fans to watch this film, so they put him in the bulk of the film. Still, it makes everything all weird when all of a sudden, we are following someone else in the third act. Especially when we go through the same experience with this character as they experience weird things at the house and ultimately fight back against them close to the same way we saw Don do it in the first hour. Not only is it repetitious, but it all feels uneven in terms of the way the story plays out. So, we rush through the same feelings and emotions Don did with another character and then the film comes to a dramatic ending—an ending which in itself is hard to swallow…
Why in the hell would Liz want to stay in the house where all of the shit went down? Where her best friend was murdered, her husband cheated on her and then disappeared, and a place that has been proven to be haunted by evil spirits. That shit just doesn’t make sense that she would stay and raise a baby in this place.
Storytelling frustrations aside, GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR incorporates some downright nightmarish imagery. I loved the scenes of the walls rotting and crapping out little marbles. I loved the look of the ghostly apparitions. The jump scares worked on me. The scene where Don feeds a camera in the walls made me jump back in my seat. In terms of simple horror, this one is jam-packed with frightening sights, sounds, and feelings. The set design of the house itself is unique, with many weird angles, secret rooms, and many floors for the camera to roam around in. Director Travis Stevens knows how to bring the scary and does so in new and unique ways—a feat not easy in the over-populated subgenre of haunted house horror.
Maybe I’m being a prude. Maybe the intent was not for us to root for Punk’s character. Maybe I missed the intent of the filmmakers completely. A lot of people love this film. I found a whole lot to like about it too. Still, I found myself leaving this one with mixed feelings, as if the moral center of the film was somewhat skewed. If you’re looking for a gory, spooky, and downright diabolical horror film. GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR is it. Just don’t think too much about the storyline and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.