Tag Archives: Travis Stevens

Cabin of Curiosities

A Wounded Fawn

by Hope Madden

In 2019, Travis Stevens directed his first feature, Girl on the Third Floor, a haunted house film in which the house is the protagonist. It not only looked amazing, but the unusual POV shots did more than break up the monotony of a film set almost exclusively inside one building. Those peculiar shots gave the impression of the house’s own point of view – a fresh and beguiling choice.

Stevens’s 2021 film Jakob’s Wife waded more successfully into feminist territory, benefitted from brilliant, veteran performances, and turned out to be one of the best horror shows of the year. In many ways, the filmmaker’s latest, A Wounded Fawn, picks up where those left off – which does not mean you’ll see where it’s heading.

Josh Ruben is Bruce. Marshall Taylor Thurman is the giant Red Owl Bruce sees, a manifestation of that part of Bruce that compels him to murder women. The next in line seems to be Meredith (Sarah Lind). After finally getting past the trauma of a long-term abusive relationship, Meredith is taking a leap with a nice new guy, heading for an intimate weekend at his cabin.

This sort of sounds like Donnie Darko meets about 100 movies you’ve seen, but it is not. Not at all. Bruce bids on high-end art at auctions, Meredith curates a museum, and Stevens’s film is awash in the most gorgeous, surreal imagery – odes to Leonora Carrington, among others. And, like the POV shots from Girl on the Third Floor, these visual choices do more than give the movie its peculiar and effective look.

At the center of Bruce’s personal journey is a sculpture he stole from his last victim, a piece depicting the Furies attacking Orestes, who was driven mad by their torture for his crimes against his mother. It’s a great visual, an excellent metaphor for a serial killer comeuppance movie. It’s also an excellent reminder that art has a millennia-long history of depicting women’s vengeance upon toxic men – in case anyone is tired of this “woke” trend.

Lind more than convinces in the character’s tricky spot of being open to new romance and guarding against red flags. We’ve seen Ruben play the nice guy who’s not really as nice as he thinks, but his sinister streak and sincere narcissism here are startling.

The film does an about-face at nearly its halfway mark, not only changing from Bruce’s perspective to Meredith’s, but evolving from straightforward narrative to something hallucinatory and fascinating.

The final image – unblinking, lengthy, horrible and fantastic – cements A Wounded Fawn as an audacious success.

The Lady Is A Vamp

Jakob’s Wife

by George Wolf

Her name is Anne Fedder. But Jakob’s Wife pretty much sums up the nearly invisible routine Anne (Barbara Crampton) is living.

Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) is the well-known pastor of a small town church, and Anne is well known as his wife. Anne’s life seems to have only gotten smaller during her thirty-year marriage, and if pressed, she’d probably admit she wouldn’t mind a little shakeup.

A late-night meeting with old boyfriend Tom (Robert Rusler)? Intriguing, but his seduction skills got nuthin’ on The Master (Bonnie Aarrons, aka The Nun), who’s waiting on them both.

The next morning, Jakob gets the first clue that things will be changing.

“Did you make breakfast?” he asks.

Anne answers, “I’m not hungry.”

At least not for pancakes. After The Master’s touch, Anne is a brand new woman, sporting fresh hair and makeup, tight, low-cut dresses and provocative new appetites.

It’s no wonder this has been a passion project for Crampton (who’s also a producer), and she makes the extended feminist metaphor ring gloriously true.

Director/co-writer Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) wraps the bloodlusty tale in a fun retro vibe of ’80s low-budget practical, blood spurting gore, but it’s Crampton (and the chemistry with her fellow horror vet Fessenden) who truly elevates this beyond the standard vampire playbook.

To see a female character of this age experiencing a spiritual, philosophical and sexual awakening is alone refreshing, and Crampton (looking fantastic, by the way) makes Anne’s cautious embrace of her new ageless wonder an empowering – and even touching – journey.

Stevens revels in the B-movie underpinnings, stopping short of tackling any systemic issues inherent in a woman’s longtime restlessness. The focus stays intimate, and only on how Anne’s new freedom affects Jakob and their local community (which remains nameless, though filming was entirely in Mississippi).

But with Crampton and Fessenden so completely in their element, Jakob’s Wife is an irresistibly fun take on the bite of eternity. Here, it’s not about taking souls, it’s about empowering them. And once this lady is a vamp, we’re the lucky ones.

Flip or Flop

Girl on the Third Floor

by Hope Madden

DIY Don is probably not a nickname Don Koch (C.M. Punk, aka Phil Brooks) has ever heard. Nonetheless, he has some free time, a pregnant wife in the city (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and a bruised ego, so he undertakes the restoration of the new suburban fixer upper on his own.

He has no idea what he’s up against.

The feature directing debut of longtime indie horror producer Travis Stevens (Cheap Thrills, We Are Still Here, Starry Eyes), Girl on the Third Floor takes the haunted house theme in directions that are both toxic and masculine.

So did The Amityville Horror, but Stevens and his team of writers (Trent Haaga, Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker) aren’t concerned with a good man infected by a bad house.   

Stevens most impresses in lensing the film. Phil and cast regularly look directly into the camera to deliver lines or just to ask WTF? as goo and other assorted nastiness tumble and/or ooze from walls. It’s as if the audience has the house’s point of view, and since the majority of the film is “house versus Don” (and Don is clearly an asshole), it’s an intriguing and suitable perspective to take.

So the haunted house is, in fact, the protagonist in this haunted house flick. Nice.

In another wise and satisfying move, Stevens underscores the hero’s star qualities with beautiful, wide interior shots that emphasize the house’s elegant and forbidding nature while appearing to trap the ever-foregrounded Don.

In his first film, WWE performer Punk mainly impresses or at least holds his own, shouldering at least 50% of the film entirely alone. Well, him, some power tools, a handful of marbles, a lot of ejaculate—still, it’s mainly Punk.

Stevens’s message is not entirely fresh, and the camera that ogles Dunn as well as co-star Sarah Brooks suggests the film may not be as woke as it pretends to be. (Haaga has penned some great horror flicks, but his Deadgirl confirms that a feminist he is not.)

Like any good haunted house movie—The Haunting, The Innocents, The Shining, even the Stevens-produced We Are Still Here, where the horror was in the basement rather than the third floor—it’s the unsettling, otherworldly images and mystery that bring chills. Third Floor makes the mistake of the third act exposition, revealing the source of the mystery all Scooby Doo like.

It’s a too-tidy end to a decent spook show—nothing especially scary or daring or original, but an atmospheric thriller that looks good and entertains.