There seems to be an influx at the moment onto streaming services of really interesting genre inflected movies, that start out as one thing and go to very different places as they go on, and I seem to be reviewing them all. It started out with Netflix’s ‘Horse Girl’, continued with Shudder’s ‘Bliss’, and is now defined in Netflix’s ‘The Girl on the Third Floor’. Maybe I’m just the only one crazy enough to watch them all. My interests and tastes do run pretty… specific. So, in what way does ‘The Girl on the Third Floor’ fit in here? If I tell you that my big reference for the film was ‘Audition’ that might help. It’s like a spooky ‘Audition’.
Meet Don, played with slimy abrasiveness by Phillip Jack Brooks. He, and his dog, are renovating a house that he intends to move his pregnant wife into after labor. The problems start coming when you realize it is the creepy old house at the end of a street that used to be a brothel in which someone died, and it’s opposite a church… Things aren’t looking good. As Wes Craven and Ruggero Deodato will tell you, in the last houses at the edge of things, nothing good can come.
Although I really enjoyed ‘The Girl on the Third Floor’, I would be lying if I said it won’t divide, and hasn’t divided, audiences. The thing about ‘The Girl on the Third Floor’ is that it’s a film that I like more and more the more distance I have from it. There are elements that I found strange or alienating that once the film has revealed its full hand make a lot more sense. If a viewer were to write off the film before the halfway mark there would be very little chance of winning them back, despite that being where you really see quite how clever the film is being. The key is really that Don’s surname is Koch, and he’s defrauded his clients and avoided jail time. This has many implications a smart viewer will pick up on. What’s really the thrust of Don’s awfulness though is his trashbag boomer misogynistic behavior. The fact is that, at least in the first half, we never see him do anything that is too out there for a character like him in a movie like this to do, it’s just the vibe he gives off, and all of his actions taken together. The film might turn off some people at this point who are sensitive to a film being voyeuristic or characters being misogynistic, but much like Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’, the film invites in misogynistic behavior that a certain audience wouldn’t find too abrasive, and then proceeds to unpack it in a viscerally confrontational way.
Because of certain other twists in the film, there is some very strange, eerie, and stilted dialogue and acting early on makes sense also in the grand context of the story. The film is about the roles we play socially. It’s about performed social roles, performed masculinity, performed care. It’s about dissecting the sides of ourselves that we show to others, so it makes sense that early on some of the performances seem strange because we don’t have the whole story from or about anyone and that is somewhat the point. That being said, I’m not sure that this problem would be helped on a rewatch. The fact is that the manner of the film is just abrasive. It reminds me of ‘Hereditary’ and Ari Aster’s style in general in its abrasive manner but the acting and screenplay are just not up to ‘Hereditary’’s level, (then again, what is?). What this results in though is that when it doesn’t quite hit the levels that it wants to, you really feel it fall short. When I go back to this in future viewings, which I certainly will do because I liked it very much, these elements, the stilted performances, the edgy editing and cinematography, the shouting directly at the camera, the often really lumpen screenplay, are going to really stand out to me. The fact is that the film is aiming for ‘Audition’ or ‘Hereditary’ levels, and it certainly achieves those kinds of levels of shock, but the actual construction of the film isn’t quite up there. The film reminds you of ‘Session 9’ but also of just how much tighter ‘Session 9’ was. It reminds you of ‘The Shining’ but also of just how much more visionary and coherent ‘The Shining’ was.
That being said, the film does still stand well on its own. For example, how the film does stand out, seeming like a pretty standard spooky haunted house movie in the vein of 1986’s ‘House’ and goes to some pretty intense, grueling places. The film has ideas to spare, it has style to spare and I’d really like to see what films Travis Stevens makes next. His next film, ‘Jakob’s Wife’, starring Barbra Crampton looks really interesting. Stevens’ the kind of filmmaker that could fit into the kind of rubric of a Simon Rumley and his strange, edgy, not exactly polished but bold feats of confident films with something to say. However, I feel like he’s poised to cut a path all of his own.
‘The Girl on the Third Floor’ is many things. It is a bold film, it is a confident film, it is an imaginative film. It is a film with some fantasy elements integrated with the building itself that is just beautiful. There is a little Cronenbergian mouth in a plug socket leaking liquid that is up there with some of the best stuff from ‘Naked Lunch’ in terms of totally real feeling surrealist practical elements. This film goes places that will make even hardened viewers recoil and I have a lot of respect for the way the film doesn’t handhold you through its morality, but presents you with a tale and expects you to keep up. That is not to say though, that it isn’t flawed. I’d still recommend it though, just be warned, it’s grueling viewing.