GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR **** USA 2019 Dir: Travis Stevens. 93 mins
An original take on the “haunted brothel” trope from writer-producer-director Travis Stevens. Ex-con C.M. Punk has moved to the ultimate “fixer-upper” in the suburbs while his heavily pregnant wife (Trieste Kelly Dunn) waits to join him back in Chicago. A whorehouse over 100 years ago, the building needs a lot of attention: nails protrude from the floorboards, a used condom decorates a gross puddle on the floor, dark stains on the wall could optimistically be mud and cum regularly oozes from the plug sockets. His dog is rightly spooked from the get-go, though Punk is easily distracted and led astray by a flirty, enigmatic local girl (Sarah Brooks), whom he screws within minutes of meeting and then strives unsuccessfully to shun when guilt kicks in.
The mood is part David Lynch and part SHINING-era Kubrick, with a hefty dose of post-Wes Craven 80’s rubber-reality horror. Like a disturbingly eroticised AMITYVILLE, this offers a slow-burn portrait of a living, breathing, ejaculating house with a heartbeat, faces in the wall and bodily fluids dripping from every pore. Stevens’ striking visual style – and inventive use of the building’s antique mirrors – has us unsettled from the offset and the evocative score (by Steve Albini, Alison Chesley and Tim Midyett) perfectly suits the unhinged ambience. For much of the duration, it’s a one-man show – with Punk a victimised male protagonist who becomes increasingly unpleasant, the turning point confirmed when his excuse for (another) infidelity is trotted out as just wanting “to be a man one more time”. The final half-hour cuts loose in fine style, unleashing a grotesque, giggling female ghost and a show-stopping gore sequence with an invasive marble and a box cutter. Even more impressively, the story transforms into a female-led picture about male attitudes and weaknesses, with the hitherto incidental, marvellously sarcastic Trieste Kelly Dunn taking centre stage and the house’s true agenda a bold, witty surprise.
Review by Steven West