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One of the great things about good short films is their re-watchability. Making use of the limited time, quality filmmakers make the most of every frame, telling stories that seem all the more vested in the purpose of each shot and word spoken. With The Room at the Top of the Stairs, a 15-minute drama-thriller first produced in 2010 and now finally available for streaming, there is much to see and hear in keep us coming back, even if there are questions lingering when it’s over.
We meet an unnamed girl (Fiannah de Rue) with a single box in her hands walking up the drive to the shared house of a group of art and music students. She is taking the room of a tenant who recently left, and upon arriving is met kindly by the two girls who remain at the home, Ameila (Bryony Geeves) and Sadie (Lucy Devine). The Girl is a bit younger than her housemates and much more introverted, feeling already nearly crippled by her shyness. She takes the room at the top of the stairs, once occupied by the troublesome Carmen (Kate Elphinstone), and finds it a bit uncomfortable. Drab and pale, one wall is punctured by dozens of holes where Carmen used nails to hang drawings and pictures.
As The Girl soon learns, Carmen was not well-liked by the others in the house, though remains a favorite topic of conversation. Desperately wanting to be ‘seen’ among her new friends, at a party in the house, The Girl tries to fit wearing make-up and telling peculiar stories, none of which do more than make her feel even more separate from the others. She then recedes upstairs and comes to terms with her odd relationship with Carmen, whom she has yet to meet, though when that time comes, makes it known the room at the top of the stairs is hers.
Written and directed by Briony Kidd, The Room at the Top of the Stairs might seem like the title of a horror film, and in fact, judging by the first few minutes, would seem that is exactly where the film would head, but by the time it ends, is much more of a psychological drama than anything scary. And as such, there is a lot that might seem ambiguous the first time through as the film cleaves itself into a few specific segments that come to define The Girl’s growth.
Avoiding spoilers, what’s important to notice about the story is the dramatic shift in The Girl and the triggers that make it happen. This is about a young woman searching for her voice, so to speak, and when she makes the choice not to hide, as represented by what she does to that aforementioned wall, she sets about establishing dominance. Watch what she does with a contested dress, a set of oddly reflective-like paintings, and of course, a lamb’s heart, which in reading will sound most disturbing and indeed truly is. We must ask ourselves about identity, and what is Carmen to The Girl and how connected are they? A final shot will make these questions all the more impactful.
The Room at the Top of the Stairs is a solid short film with some effective atmosphere and plenty of dizzying questions even while it might leave many feeling too left out in the dark. A film about and made by women, there is room here for much interpretation as it weaves a curious tale that teases ghostly influence in bringing The Girl to the end (or start) of her journey.
Available now on Shudder, this is worth a look.
Movie description: The Room At The Top Of The Stairs is a short film about a girl who moves into a communal house only to find that she might not be entirely alone in her room.
Director(s): Briony Kidd
Actor(s): Fiannah de Rue, Lucy Devine, Kate Elphinstone
Genre: Drama, Thriller