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.
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 / 5)