“The Room at the Top of the Stairs” (2010): Loner Struggles for Identity with Someone No Longer There

Though the Australian slow-burn gothic thriller The Room at the Top of the Stairs is  a 2010 effort, the short film is making big waves at the moment with its recent addition to the Shudder online library. Briony Kidd, director of the Stranger with My Face International Film Festival (based in Hobart, Tasmania) helms this stylish, unnerving psychological drama.

Fiannah de Rue stars as The Girl, an introverted young art student who is moving into a shared living space, a rather good-sized house that she will share with some other art and music students. Carmen (Kate Elphinstone), the young woman who rented her room previously, is bad-mouthed at every turn by housemates Amelia (Bryony Geeves) and Sadie (Lucy Devine) and their friends. Though Carmen no longer lives there in body, her presence still hangs heavy in the house.

A shy art student (Fiannah de Rue, right) goes through some dark territory when she is overshadowed by the presence of an unliked young woman (Kate Elphinstone) in director Briony Kidd’s The Room at the Top of the Stairs.

The Girl attempts to fit in with her far more outgoing housemates and to overcome Carmen’s lingering presence. As she goes on her personal odyssey, some puzzling, sometimes dark events take place. The titular room has an air of gloom about it and The Girl sets about making it her own in some unexpected ways. Fiannah de Rue is marvelous as the main character.

Briony Kidd, who also wrote the screenplay, invests The Room at the Top of the Stairs with a sense of uneasiness that borders on dread. The short never goes into full-on scare territory; it is meant to provide a disquieting feeling rather than to outright terrify or shock. It accomplishes that mission brilliantly.

A coming-of-age tale combined with a seventies-style art house horror vibe (though thoroughly modern in its setting and execution), The Room at the Top of the Stairs is an intriguing short that warrants rewatching. Viewers may find that a second viewing answers a few questions but opens the door to a few more.

The Room at the Top of the Stairs: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.