Release Date(s)2019 (January 7, 2020)
Studio(s)Queensbury Pictures (Dark Sky Films)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Girl on the Third Floor is a horror film from 2019 that combines haunted house elements with a troubled couple’s attempt to start fresh in a new home—a vintage Victorian in a Chicago suburb. The house needs a lot of renovations. Wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is the primary breadwinner and is pregnant, so the fixing-up is left to husband Don (ex pro wrestler Phil “C.M. Punk” Brooks). He has no experience in home improvement but tackles the job anyway, intending to put in a few solid weeks of work while Liz puts in extra hours at the office.
This is no ordinary old house, however. Pipes burst and splatter blood, the dog starts barking at dark rooms, walls become spongy and exude gelatinous muck, the shower head oozes something far worse than water, small round objects appear from nowhere and have a mind of their own, and an entire ceiling falls down. While Don contends with these setbacks, a flirtatious young woman, Sarah (Sarah Brooks), keeps showing up. She may or may not be human and may or may not be living in the attic. Her presence definitely has an unnerving effect on Don and plays to his weaknesses.
From time to time, Liz checks in with Don via FaceTime. Don tries to downplay the weird happenings at the house and never mentions the enigmatic Sarah.
Director Travis Stevens devotes a great deal of time in the early part of the film to the renovations. Don’s workplace pal Milo (Travis Delgado) stops by at one point to lend a hand, and together they work to get the old place in decent shape. Things become increasingly strange as Sarah proves to be more than a mere distraction, a neighbor relates the house’s troubled history, and unexplainable occurrences become the norm.
The second half of the film turns extremely violent and brutal. But because it channels scenes and moments from better scare pictures and relies heavily on blood and gore, the film never really gets under the skin, as good horror films should. We have seen this kind of film more than once (The Amityville Horror, The Haunting, The Evil Dead) and there’s not enough originality to make it stand out.
C.M. Punk is too weak an actor to convince us that his character is experiencing weird and horrific manifestations. He reacts with perfunctory shock and an occasional outburst, then continues his dutiful renovation as if he’s on an HGTV fix-em-up show. We never see growing fear, or even apprehension. Sarah Brooks is very attractive, but never exudes an aura of seductive menace. The best that director Stevens could do with her was to pop her in unexpectedly for a “Boo” effect.
Ms. Dunn, seen only intermittently in the first part of the film, dominates the final third, when her Liz shows up to surprise Don. Liz, alone in the house, must deal with its supernatural forces. Especially vulnerable because of her pregnancy, Liz encounters Sarah, sensing at once that this attractive young woman is far more than the “helper” she claims to be. Ms. Dunn turns in the film’s best performance.
The Blu-ray release of Girl on the Third Floor from Dark Sky Films, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Practically the entire film takes place in the large Victorian-style house. Lighting appears natural, with deep shadows and even complete darkness often creating a creepy atmosphere. Old-fashioned floral wallpaper and pink walls give the old house a distinctive other-time quality. The interiors, especially in shadowy or darker scenes, give off a bluish tone. A bowling alley scene is bright with colored lights playing across the walls. The few outdoor scenes take place on a front porch and a house across the street and appear to have been filmed on overcast days.
The soundtrack in English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional English subtitles are available. The sound is used to both startle and disgust. A loud out-of-whack doorbell rings several times, providing a jump scare. The sounds of thick fluids oozing from the walls, black goo shooting from water pipes, and small creepy rolling balls are intended to disgust or enhance suspense. The dog barking foreshadows something not quite right in the house. Scenes late in the film contain gruesome images with fearsome sound effects for a one-two punch. Dialogue is clear throughout and sound mixing is effective, with the score (by Steve Albini, Alison Chesley, and Tim Midyet) creating an appropriately eerie atmosphere for the action.
Bonus materials on the Unrated Blu-ray release include an audio commentary, the theatrical trailer, and the teaser trailer.
Audio Commentary – Writer/director/producer Travis Stevens explains that he wanted the credit sequence to show different textures of the house, introducing the structure to viewers before Don enters. The house is located in Frankfurt, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and was once a brothel where two deaths occurred. “The film is an attempt to honor the history of the house and explore factors that led to trauma that took place there.” The film is about deception and things not being what they appear. Cooper, the dog in the film, was obtained from a local trainer and had a personality that translated to the screen. Much of the house was filmed as it was, with its garish walls, some painted pink and others covered with floral wallpaper. The production team built false walls to accommodate some of the gory effects. The character of the neighbor lays out the field for those who come into the house. The house’s history affects those within its walls, and choices are left to the inhabitants to do the right thing. Don’s backstory is revealed through outside characters. He is arrogant and “thinks everybody else is an idiot.” Setting nearly the entire film within the house creates a feeling of claustrophobia. A major concern was keeping the visuals interesting in such a limited space. Don’s doing home improvements allowed for altering the look of the interiors. The mysterious round objects that are a recurring image were actually remote-controlled spheres made to resemble marbles. As the film progresses, the rottenness of the house becomes more apparent.
– Dennis Seuling