Girl on the Third Floor: Indie Thriller Mortgages More Scares From Its Haunted House

Another haunted house movie starring a wrestler-turned-actor? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good indie horror movie. Nevertheless, Girl on the Third Floor impressed critics on the festival circuit. Now after slowly making its way to VOD services, Netflix has finally added this indie chiller to its horror menu. So is Girl on the Floor worth mortgaging your time? Or does this indie horror movie fail to renovate any new scares out of the subgenre?

Synopsis

Don Koch, a disgraced lawyer and ‘ne’er-do-well, hopes he has found a new start. In the Chicago suburbs, Don has purchased a large, delipidated old house to renovate for his pregnant wife. Now he just has to do the renovations to prove to his wife, Liz, that he can be a good husband and father. But old habits die hard. And the old house hides many secrets, including a secret third floor, above the master bedroom. As strange supernatural events unfold and Don gives in to his worst impulses, the pull of the house threatens everything he’s worked to accomplish.

Girl on the Third Floor Gets its Haunted House Right

The ‘haunted house’ movie has been done many times. Over the years, there’s arguably little horror fans haven’t seen. Director Travis Stevens, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker, do borrow from past classics. To be fair, it’s kind of difficult to not source some movies like The Amityville Horror or The Shining. Nevertheless, Stevens references, but never mindlessly apes, these movies. As a result, Girl on the Third Floor not only strikes the right creepy notes, it simultaneously finds its own atmosphere and scares.

Whether its rolling marbles or dripping sounds, Girl on the Third Floor establishes dread in place of cheap jolts.

Stevens conjures up a consistently foreboding atmosphere, finding scares in innocuous things. Whether its rolling marbles or dripping sounds, Girl on the Third Floor establishes dread in place of cheap jolts. Some impressively gruesome practical effects, which sparingly appear, further set Stevens’ movie apart from lesser haunted house movies. As the movie hits its final act, Stevens channels The Shining – there’s certainly a spiritual connection. But the connection work as Girl on the Third Floor still feels like its own movie, and still suitably creepy.

Girl on the Third Floor and Toxic Masculinity

While Stevens and company channel classic haunted house movies, Girl on the Third Floor firmly places itself in the #MeToo era with its story. Phil Brooks’ ‘down-on-his-luck’ Don Koch epitomizes today’s concept of toxic masculinity. He lies and exploits his pregnant wife’s trust, while drinking and cheating on her. Moreover, Stevens quickly establishes that Don is in over his head with the home renovations. But Koch refuses to admit he needs help and, ultimately, the house preys on his psychological weaknesses. Girl on the Third Floor’s origins for its supernatural house – a former brothel -nicely parallels with Don’s own exploitation of women. Not all of the movie’s message gets delivered consistently; Stevens et all leave a little much for the finale.

Phil Brooks Impresses with Shoulder’s Load of the Movie

Professional wrestlers-turn-actors have a mixed history. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a bona fide box office star, but the less said about Hulk Hogan’s No Holds Barred fiasco, the better. Of course Roddy Piper found some success with John Carpenter’s They Live and cult-classic, Hell Comes Frogtown. Though Phil Brooks, aka CM Punk, will be less familiar to non-wrestling fans, he’s wisely opted to start with small, indie fare. Still Brooks shoulders a huge responsibility in Girl on the Third Floor’s small cast. Much of the movie lives and dies based on his performance. Fortunately, Brooks mostly impresses, particularly with a character we’re increasingly expected to dislike. He’s a bit broad at times, but Brooks effectively mixes smugness and tragedy in equal measures.

He’s a bit broad at times, but Brooks effectively mixes smugness and tragedy in equal measures.

As put-upon wife, Liz, Trieste Kelly Dunn doesn’t have much to do until the movie’s final act. In spite of the limited screentime, Dunn convinces as a strong woman both overwhelmed by her circumstances and weary of her deadbeat husband. Where Girl on the Third Floor runs into minor problems is the movie’s supernatural manifestation, Sarah. Actress Sarah Brooks is fine when she’s expected to present a murky role. But she lacks the menace to drive home some of the movie’s more unnerving scenes.

Girl on the Third Floor Finds Scares in This Haunted House’s Walls

Yes, we’ve seen plenty of haunted house movies. But there’s a reason the subgenre still works. And Travis Stevens finds new scares alongside call-backs to other classic movie examples. As a result, Girl on the Third Floor feels refreshingly creepy and unnerving throughout its runtime. With Phil Brooks’ surprisingly good performance and a relevant subtext, Girl on the Third Floor is indie horror done right.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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