Take one strong, hairy demon leg. You can imagine the kind; something haunched and goat-like with red flesh and a cloven black hoof. Now take that leg and sew it to a Frankenstinian torso, perhaps the broad-shouldered frame of a deceased strangler. Now, at last, take a half-rotted head, jaw hanging loose, and attach it to the top of your creation with a staple gun. Take a step back, perform the proper incantations, and watch it spring to life! Would it be able to move effectively? To chase its prey? Would it make biological “sense,” so to speak?
No, it would not. Sometimes, attaching disparate components to each other can work beautifully. Take, for example, From Dusk till Dawn, which manages to be a crime caper and a vampire movie – and each is better for it. At other times, you simply wind up spoiling perfectly good components. 2019’s Girl on the Third Floor is an unfortunate example of the latter. While the acting and photography are quite good and the plot built around a reliable workhorse of the horror genre (young couple buy haunted house, madness ensues), there are three disparate tones or modes at work in this movie that never quite come into harmony and as a result Girl can be jarring and confusing and never quite finds its voice.
As I stated above, Girl on the Third Floor is the story of Don and Liz, an attractive young couple who move to the suburbs to raise a family. Don heads to the property ahead of Liz to remodel it and a series of supernatural events ensues – I don’t really need to go into much more detail than that. Girl clocks in at a svelte 93 minutes, and I will say this for it: it is a slickly produced, absolutely beautifully-shot film. MMA and WWE star CM Punk is excellent as Don. His performance was by far my favorite thing about this movie; he is charismatic and interesting and his acting did a lot of heavy lifting to keep the pace of the film as brisk as it is.
Girl is really made of three disparate components, each of which would have made for a decent horror movie taken on its own terms. It is one part David Lynch, one part Sam Raimi, and one part Amityville Horror. The Amityville component lies in the movie’s straightforward framing and the way in which the plot unfolds. It has been a minute since I’ve seen a horror film that hews so closely to the formula it uses, and unashamedly so. This may have worked (largely due to Punk’s acting and the excellent photography), but the buoyancy of formulaic indulgence is weighed down when it pretends to be something more. This is the case with Girl on the Third Floor’s second aspect: its status as a love letter to Sam Raimi.
I’ve written a few words in appreciation of The Evil Deadhere before, so there’s no need to reiterate my love of Raimi or his influence on horror cinema. The folks (three writers and a director) behind Girl obviously love Raimi too. The shrill giggles of wall-dwelling demons, a squashed face engaged in maniacal laughter, manic cuts and edits, and other hallmarks of Raimi’s style are joyously (if sporadically) engaged in. Again, this might make for a good movie. It might even have elevated the Amityville components of the film as well. But a third tone added to the mix makes the whole thing discordant and unwieldy.
Someone involved in the making of Girl on the Third Floor has a serious yen for David Lynch. I, too, love the cryptic duck-voiced meditator from Mars. Some of his films are among my very favorites of all time (Blue Velvet will forever hold a place in my top 5). There are parts of Girl that could have come directly from Blue Velvet – the zooming camera shots through newspaper insulation in the walls, for example. This isn’t done in a way that’s cheap or poorly executed. But those shots belong in a different movie, and the tone of mystery and otherworldliness just confuse the grotesque half-comedy of the Raimi bits and the overall stick-to-the-script feel of the Amityville components.
Sometimes bigger is better and the more the merrier when it comes to influences. Directors like Quentin Tarantino (when he’s at his best) embody this trope. But load a film with just one too many influences and, if that influence is discordant or incompatible, the whole can fall into disarray. Girl on the Third Floor is still a watchable and enjoyable little horror film. I just wish that the committee that had made it (whether that committee is made up of many distinct people or just many voices within one head) had been replaced by one unified vision.
American Cult Anthology$2.99 – $12.95