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A Girl Upstairs

Goreella Media, 2024


Kevin Van Stevenson / John Gee

Reading Time:

4 minutes

A Girl UpstairsFeast (ZG3K1GRB0QYOOPPU)
00:00 / 04:59

📷 : Used with permission, Goreella Media

A Girl Upstairs


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Movies and TV shows about illness or set in hospitals or similar medical institutions

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Chris Chaisson


Over the past decade, many adolescents in the Gen Z age group have tuned into a minimalist music genre called lo-fi hip hop, for which there are many YouTube live streams to help tune out your surroundings and focus on studies. One such beat from this genre is titled “Solitude” by the artist Nymano. It borrows a sound byte from a popular anime called Cowboy Bebop in which a character says, “Instead of being in a group, it’s better to have real solitude all by yourself.” The man she is talking to responds, “You were just afraid they’d abandon you, so you abandoned them. You distanced yourself from the whole thing.” The exchange is meant to shed light on how humans can use isolation to shield themselves from pain, even if the loneliness is painful itself. This sound byte, as well as the song, echoed through my head as I watched Kevin Van Stevenson’s psychological thriller A Girl Upstairs.

Written by John Gee, A Girl Upstairs revolves around a talented canvas artist named Dulce who, due to a traumatic childhood event, has developed agoraphobia. She remains barricaded in her loft above a movie theater, only occasionally peeking out of the window or a hole in the wall facing the screening room. Her only consistent interaction is over the phone with an art gallery owner who sells her work. Their conversations only contribute to Dulce’s mounting anxiety. Throughout her day, Dulce sporadically interacts with her paintings, much in the way Robert Neville in I Am Legend converses with the store mannequins. 

The single character, single-location story approach poses its fair share of challenges, but it is also oddly relatable for viewers. Though we interact with peers, neighbors and family on a regular basis, the most neurotic of us identify with Dulce’s feelings. With an excess of thoughts pinging around in your head, you can feel alone a lot more than you are by never expressing them to those you confide in. Watching Dulce, played by Holly Blair, meander around her apartment, two main questions enter the audience’s mind: what happened to trigger this agoraphobic state and will she eventually face her fear? 

After discovering that a movie theater employee that she has admired from afar has a girlfriend, Dulce tries to destroy a painting she made in his likeness. To her surprise, her efforts have an unexpected consequence, as her art comes to life. She enjoys the new company and takes on the role of caregiver. Assuming this responsibility not only boosts Dulce’s spirits but allows her to take better care of herself in turn. One looming reality is that her painting-come-to-life is not encumbered by her own past trauma and will likely seek to explore the world, forcing Dulce to face her agoraphobia simply to hold onto her newfound happiness.

The set design and music in A Girl Upstairs paints the bleakness of Dulce’s mental state. While she has space to move around in her loft, the clutter, peeling wallpaper and dim lights accentuate the pressing need for her to overcome her fear. This seems a clever depiction, as a more luxurious environment would undermine her main inner conflict. Similarly, the soundtrack creates an ominous mood throughout, foreshadowing the eventual climax and heightening several nightmarish moments during the course of the story. 

Dulce’s haunting flashbacks are revealed in very short, sporadic clips that accurately represent the imperfect memories we all possess. It also gives the added bonus of hinting at a traumatic event without fully displaying it in a triggering manner. An old quote from Seneca goes, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” With this in mind, leaving Dulce’s childhood trauma as a fragmented memory for much of the film allows the viewer’s imagination to run wild.

A Girl Upstairs presents as a single-location psych thriller and delivers its fair share of tense moments. Nonetheless, my closest comparison comes from a more light-hearted crime drama from the early 2000’s, Matchstick Men. Nicolas Cage plays Roy, a con-artist with his own affliction, similar to Dulce. When his estranged teenage daughter unexpectedly arrives, similar to Dulce’s humanoid paintings, he must assume new responsibilities and face fears that he’s been avoiding for years. Though Dulce does not mirror any of Nicolas Cage’s patented rants, A Girl Upstairs entertains, shocks and makes you reconsider the thought of embracing loneliness.

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