Horror fans might not have known Travis Stevens’ name before now. But they’re almost certainly familiar with his work.
As the main man behind Snowfort Pictures, he’s damn near a veteran after producing some of the freshest genre fare of the decade—Cheap Thrills, We Are Still Here, A Horrible Way To Die, Starry Eyes, Big Ass Spider!, XX, and more. Not to mention venturing outside the genre on films like Jodorowsky’s Dune and Buster’s Mal Heart.
Now, on the heels of a SXSW debut, he’s sitting in the director’s chair with Girl On The Third Floor. The film may lean a bit too heavily on the standard tropes of a haunted house tale, but with some sharp single-location imagery, an impressive bag of visual tricks, and the stunt casting of wrestler C.M. Punk, he’s positioned himself as a name to watch going forward.
The story follows a man named Dan—or King Dan to his friends and colleagues for his supposed financial acumen—as he arrives at a derelict historic house in the deeper suburbs of Chicago and begins to fix up his fixer-upper. While his adversaries in the first act mostly consist of black, clear, and red goo coming out of the walls and pipes, things start to get weirder as neighbors and townsfolk weigh in on the legend and reputation of the house.
The film’s perspective stays with King Dan almost exclusively, and to mixed results. C.M. Punk, though an “actor” by trade with WWE, is relatively unproven when it comes to this level of filmmaking, and he’s done no favors here by being dropped into the driver’s seat. His acting chops simply aren’t at the level yet where he can carry a film; however, he does have presence, which ain’t nothing. It doesn’t hurt that he looks kinda like a young Henry Rollins too, except more tattooed and more handsome.
The supporting cast helps him out a bit, though, particularly Sarah Brooks and Travis Delgado (of Chicago P.D.), and Trieste Kelly Dunn in the third act. Delgado is probably the best actor in the ensemble, even though he isn’t given much to do here.
Uneven performances can be forgiven in a film like this, because it mostly delivers where it matters: the creepy atmosphere. Stevens’ team, from the production designers and costume designers on down to the special effects team, provides some genuinely weird, gross, and bloody visuals set against a nice backdrop of antiquated decor. The imagery goes places that viewers probably won’t expect, and they’ll see some things they probably won’t forget.
The one thing holding the film back from a truly gripping third act is the script. As the action runs its course, there’s too much unnecessary exposition coming from too many different places (including an ancient newspaper), which demystifies and waters down a resolution that could’ve largely stood on its own—or even gone unexplained altogether.
Girl On The Third Floor certainly has its merits, and it’s an entertaining hour and a half on its own, but it feels almost like a test drive for Stevens. He’s got a sharp eye, he’s got a great visual palate, and considering this is his first script as well, his writing is pretty decent. If you dig effects-driven horror, keep his name on your radar.
‘Girl On The Third Floor’ Uses Gnarly Effects to Freshen Up an Overcooked Story [SXSW Review]
The story may be familiar (and overexplained in the end), but ‘Girl On The Third Floor’ provides plenty of fun and creepy visuals while kickstarting C.M. Punk’s film career.