Girl Upstairs (2024)

Rating: B

Dir: Kevin Stevenson
Star: Holly Blair, Gustavo Cintra, Sara Catherine Bellamy
a.k.a. A Girl Upstairs

This is probably one of those films where you’re best going in, with as little information as possible. Skip the trailer. Ideally, don’t read the synopsis. Because the less you know, the more the resulting journey is going to be a pleasant surprise. We’ll wait for you here. The rest of the review will contain… well, not exactly “spoilers”. Let’s just say, information that might be more fun for the film to tell you, rather than me.

All good? Okay. Dulce (Blair, occasionally giving off young Nastassja Kinski vibes) is an artist with severe agoraphobia, due to a childhood incident. She’s now a shut-in, unable to leave her apartment. But she still works, the only human contact being phone calls to her agent, who also arranges for deliveries of art supplies. From afar, she watches a man who runs a screening room nearby, and is devastated when she discovers he has a girlfriend. At her agent’s suggestion, she paints his picture on some recently received vellum canvas, and this is where things go off track. To this point, it had been your typical “artist quietly going slowly mad” scenario. Blair was decent enough, though it’s really hard for any actor to carry a film as solo as needed here. She’s almost the only person on screen for the first thirty-five minutes, and there’s just so much painting I can watch [unless it’s of a naked Emmanuelle Beart in La Belle Noiseuse, in which case, I’m packing a lunch].

What happens is: her painting comes to life. Once Dulce has got over the shock of a nude man (Cintra) appearing in her apartment, we enter an entirely different movie. I did not see this coming, but it’s weirdly similar to Lisa Frankenstein – only far less smug and self-centred. In bothm a woman “makes” a male companion, and then has the task of shaping the raw clay of her creation into whatever she wants. In Lisa, it was basically a fuck buddy. Here, the role of Webster – named after the dictionary – is more to fill Dulce’s emotional needs for human contact. Just because you don’t want to go out, doesn’t make you a hermit, after all. It’s a novel twist on the meet cute, and gives proceedings a whole new and interesting direction in which to work.

Then there’s the final act, where Dulce does another painting on the magical (or, perhaps, cursed?) vellum, this time bringing Mimi (Bellamy) to life. And the dynamic changes again, for Mimi is neither as malleable as Webster, nor as empathetic. The old saying, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd” should give you some idea of how things are going to go down, heading into more traditional horror territory. Then again, do Frankenstein-adjacent stories ever have a happy ending? By the time the credits roll, you’ll look back and might feel a long way from “artist quietly going slowly mad”. Or maybe not. Either way, this is a fine example of how to work with smaller resources, and still deliver a film that is capable of sneaking up on the viewer and surprising them.

Girl Upstairs is now available on Tubi.