Girl on the Third Floor Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Dark Sky Films
Directed by Travis Stevens
Written by Paul Johnstone (story), Ben Parker (story), and Travis Stevens (screenplay)
2019, 93 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 25th, 2019
Phil “CM Punk” Brooks as Don Koch
Trieste Kelly Dunn as Liz Koch
Sarah Brooks as Sarah Yates
Travis Delgado as Milo Stone
Karen Woditsch as Pastor Ellie Mueller
The classic haunted house flick has been around for as long as cinema itself (see Lon Chaney in The Monster, 1925). Throughout the well over 100 years of horror movies, there’s one thing that virtually all haunted house films have in common: sins of the past and the stains of bad deeds bleeding through to the present. It’s a timeless theme mainly because some kinds of darkness will never die, and some appetites can never be satiated.
Author Sam Keen once said, “The root of humanly caused evil is not man’s animal nature, not territorial aggression, or innate selfishness, but our need to gain self-esteem, deny our mortality, and achieve a heroic self-image. Our desire for the best is the cause of the worst.” If there’s a better way to describe the main character of Travis Stevens’ debut film, Girl on the Third Floor, I can’t think of it.
Don Koch (WWE legend Phil “CM Punk” Brooks) was known as “King Don” in the business world before he defrauded his clients out of millions. He ran Chicago. He was a titan. He was also an alcoholic womanizer and general scumbag. He’s getting a second chance at happiness and redemption with his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn; United 93), in their dream home. It’s a Victorian fixer-upper in the suburbs with a scandalous history and a pile of dark secrets hidden away in its very walls. Don is spending the week before his wife arrives in over his head with a laundry list of things to fix with the help of the couple’s mutual friend, Milo (Travis Delgado; Chicago P.D.). A visit from the pastor who resides across the street (Karen Woditsch) presents a sordid story of a brothel with a murderous history. Before long, Don is drinking again, perusing pornography, and even screwing a sexy young neighbor named Sarah (Sarah Brooks; There). Even worse, the house oozes black goop and semen-like fluids from the outlets and walls, and there’s an observation balcony above the master bedroom. As ominous portents become horrific tragedies, Don finds himself becoming the man he never wanted to be as the house awakens his inner demons and the restless dead trapped inside.
The best horror works on a level that you can identify with, a level that rings true to human nature (be it yours or someone else’s). Girl on the Third Floor does just that, with CM Punk turning in a surprisingly nuanced performance that’s equal parts Don Draper (a clear influence for the King Don Koch character) and Ash Williams (thanks to Punk’s highly expressive demeanor). It’s no surprise that one of pro wrestling’s most highly regarded performers on the microphone would be a natural at acting; natural charisma and “it factor” is a thing you just can’t teach. If you’re even remotely familiar with his work, then you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t know who CM Punk is, you’re still in for a treat. He shines like a diamond in the rough getting its first good polish.
More so than even Punk, the house itself is a character of ridiculous force. The location is a home in Frankfort, Illinois, where two young girls supposedly met a tragic end. It has a real history of haunting and a reputation. It’s also flat-out cool looking, a throwback with gaudy wallpaper, personality-laden fixtures, and dark wood floors. No fabricated set could match the amount of weight the building (whether inside or out) brings to the production. It’s a hideously wonderful sight to behold.
Perhaps the neatest trick of Girl on the Third Floor, however, is the way it lures you in with a slow-burn piece of tension that’s all character build and shadow work before turning upside down in the final third into an assault of first-rate gore, sexual nastiness, and deeply fucked up imagery. The final act is slimy, icky, and perverted. Mirrors are put to highly effective use, and you’ll probably never look at a bag of marbles the same way again.
As strong as the final act (hell, the whole movie!) is, it does run a bit long in trying to over explain the theme and drive it home. While this does give Liz and the Pastor their time to shine in the fashion of an epilogue, it does take a bit of the wind out of the sails. Still, it’s oh-so forgivable in a film that will leave a lasting impression on all who take it in. Writer/director Travis Stevens (previously a producer on We Are Still Here and Mohawk) shows that he’s a new player on the horror scene that you’ll want to keep an eye on, and Phil “CM Punk” Brooks does the same.
Girl on the Third Floor is a unique and disturbing take on the classic haunted house film. Equal parts character study, moral cautionary tale, gross-out, and nightmare fuel, it’ll get in your head and stay there for longer than you’ll want it to.
That’s a good thing.
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