A Girl Upstairs – Review – The Global Tofay

A Girl Upstairs – Review - The Global Tofay Global Today

Paintings, as far as cinema is concerned, are not to be trusted. Just ask Madeline / Judy in Vertigo or Stanley Uris in IT. There is something unnerving about a set of eyes blankly following you across a room or causing you to see things that aren’t there … are they? Director Kevin Stevenson takes this premise, turning it into more of a mystery thriller in his latest film, A Girl Upstairs.

The film opens with an unsettling montage of all things creepy. A television set flickers, candles drip everywhere, a gothic looking chandelier trembles, a knife slices through an artists palette and a material that looks like pink, veiny skin is shown more than once. The score, rich in deep brass, also lends a sense of foreboding. It really leans into the horror elements that the film picks up on in its third act.

But, for the meantime, we meet Dulce (Holly Blair), an artist who suffers from agoraphobia. From her dingy apartment, she creates unusual portraits that are sold in the outside world. She, however, can barely make it past the top of the stairs. She seems haunted by her childhood, with glimpses into her nightmares giving us clues as to why she has become the adult she is. Despite her protests that she simply could not survive outside, you can’t help but think that Dulce is lonely.

Like every classic artist captured on screen, Dulce is clad in paint-spattered overalls and keeps a brush tucked behind her ear. We are treated to a couple of angst-stricken montages of her frenzied painting sessions during their opening twenty minutes or so. For this reason, the film takes a little time to find its feet as we’re not really being shown anything that allows us to get inside Dulce’s head; it’s all been seen before.

Where the film does come to life, if you’ll pardon the pun, is when Webster (Gustavo Cintra) appears. He has simply materialised straight out of a painting, arriving mute and naked. Dulce is initially terrified, but soon bonds with her new room-mate. Cintra gives a really interesting performance, given that he maybe has about ten words of dialogue in total. Instead, he is Buster Keaton-esque with his hugely expressive eyes. His tender acts of kindness towards his hostess give you a sense that he is every bit as vulnerable as she is. But you can’t help but wonder if Dulce is just imagining what it’s like to care and be cared for – is Webster really there or is she losing her mind? Nonetheless, their scenes together are sweet and you are rooting for their budding friendship.

The tone shifts dramatically with the arrival of Mimi (Sara Catherine Bellamy), another painting brought to life. She immediately seems more aloof and uncanny than the innocent Webster. Bellamy litters her performance with head tilts, thousand yard stares and tinkling, unsettling laughter. Suddenly the dark, peeling walls and yellow lighting of Dulce’s apartment take on a far more sinister edge. This divergence from an exploration of trauma and loneliness into outright horror / thriller elements happens quickly, as the film builds towards its third act. It’s a whiplash type of shift that makes you question what you have been seeing (and believing) up until this point. It must be hard for actors to come into a film two thirds of the way through and make such an impact in terms of tone and performance but both Cintra and Bellamy do exactly that – one making you feel hopeful and the other shifting the tension dial up a good notch.

Without giving anything away, the ending is going to throw you for an even bigger hoop. It’s so well done that you may actually be rubbing your eyes in disbelief. What did you just see? It’s nice Girl Upstairs when a film plays with your expectations and makes you question if you have been seeing things as they are or from inside the mind of the protagonist.

With good, solid performances – especially from Cintra and Bellamy, who really make the most of their screentime with impactful, opposing characters – A Girl Upstairs is an interesting film that never quite allows you to settle in. Mixing horror and thriller elements with an exploration of childhood trauma, it is definitely a film that will have you questioning what you are seeing.

A Girl Upstairs was released on April 21.

Mary Munoz
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