Briony Kidd’s The Room at the Top of the Stairs doesn’t want to be a short film. While it doesn’t reach anywhere near the full potential it has, it does have style and manages to scratch the surface of where it wants to go.
The Room at the Top of the Stairs follows a young illustrator moving into a shared flat, and taking the room of a woman who was kicked out for reasons unknown to her. Soon enough, she find herself possessed by the characteristics of the previous tenant via the leftover paintings and the arrangement of nails that used to hold them.
The Room at the Top of the Stairs is restrained by ideas too big for its length.
Resembling an assortment of scenes cut from a feature rather than its own self-contained story. Sudden jumps in time showing big changes in characters without much clarity on how they got there stunt the story from developing enough to engage the audience. Without anything leading up to it, the tone shifts drastically with not much to follow.
The changing of images and actions, such as the transformation of our protagonist’s bedroom, are only highlighted with a real significance by showing another character’s response–from which we cut away from far too early. Witnessing the events themselves, we never catch on to “why” they transpire. And in that case it’s not needing an explanation of why the characters do what they do, it’s that we have no semblance of a motivation.
The style of ambiguity is not suited for this length, not providing enough build up for the attempted type of payoff. And considering the mammoth points of reference–Gothic romance and early-to-mid-twentieth century mystery–it’s the condensing of these elements that don’t give the movie time to feel itself out.
With Kidd citing author Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca, Don’t Look Now), I understand what’s being explored and want to see it taken further in an environment where it has room to breathe.
Cracking at the seems with ideas desperately wanting to walk freely, The Room at the Top of the Stairs yearns to be longer. Though seeing a release now, the short was completed in 2010. Since then, Kidd has been prolific in filmmaking, even taking on mentorship from Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), and now working on a “post-apocalyptic” feature, where surely Kidd’s voice will take the form it deserves.
The Room at the Top of the Stairs is available to watch in its entirety on Shudder.