The Girl Next Door Review
Written by: Goon
One of the hardest things to do in cinema is to really bring a novel to life. I think we have seen that some many times with Stephen Kings books and to some extent Clive Barker. Quite often the written word is far superior to what is ever brought to the screen because of the amount of character development and detail included in a book. With Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door I was anxious to see how they would approach such dark material and how it would work on camera. There are so many children involved with violence, nudity and very dark material.. Quite frankly I'm surprised that I have actually even seen the movie because there are no heroes in this movie. No one is admirable and honestly there is only a few bright spots in the darkness.
The film takes place during the 50s in a little suburban neighborhood. Its just another summer for them until Meg and her sister Susan arrive at their favorite place to hang out, Ruth's place. Ruth is an older woman who is caring for her two sons in her home and is always indulging them with beers. She's kind of like one of the guys. But that all changes when Meg and Susan show up. As the tension rises things go from bad to worse as Meg is locked in the basement after some "misbehavior". What follows is one of the worst cases of child abuse I have ever heard of. Did I forget to mention that this film is based on an actual case and is really based on a true story? It is one seriously heart wrenching film.
Long before I knew about the film I had read the novel so I knew going in what to expect. I'm not sure if that was good or bad because I knew the entire time what was going to happen. With the book in mind the film followed almost everything precisely. I was really amazed at how well it was adapted into a movie. Some of the dialog was even taken straight from the novel for the film. I know Jack Ketchum was proud of the script because when the option for the film was bought by Modern Cine he would only sell the rights if they used this script. It was a very smart decision on both parts.
Now I can't say that every horror fan is going to enjoy this film. It goes into deep dark territory that I am sure most of you will probably not want to go to. It explores many themes including the helplessness of children, a kind of group mentality and most of all, child abuse. The very best way to describe this movie is to say that it is a twisted version of Stand By Me. The film is narrated by one of the boys involved and just the whole feel of that era is so well done and amazing.
The camera work is phenomenal really. I think by showing less and leaving a lot up to the imagination it pays off much better. Of course this was also a necessity with so many children being on set. Which brings me to all of the child actors. They all did a fantastic job and I have to say that the girl playing Meg, Blythe Auffarth, was stunning. Her beauty really blew me away and even though that's how they describe her in the book, to see her in the film was something else. Also doing a great job was Blanche Baker who had the challenge of playing Ruth. She does a great job of convincing everyone that she really truly believes everything she says. The Ruth character is kind of in her own little twisted world where women are all whores. I really can't say enough about the whole cast though. They all did a good job and I really can't say anything bad about anyone involved.
The score was handled rather masterfully as well. It wasn't overpowering and actually it was VERY subdued to the point where there would be long moments of silence. These moments usually happened during very tense scenes between Meg and Ruth. Ruth would go off on very long tirades and the silence would leave you hanging on ever word that came out of her mouth. To say the least I was very impressed with the choice of music.
Anchor Bay did a pretty good job of putting together a little DVD for us to enjoy. Included on the disc are a couple of commentary tracks, stills, a trailer and of course the screenplay. They also included two featurettes. The best one was the basic behind the scenes of the film which had interviews with almost everyone involved in the picture right down to the gaffers (yes, really). They even had a little bit with Jack Ketchum which was the most interesting of them all. The other feature was basically some of the same interviews just extended with bits you didn't hear before.
Overall I really can't say enough about this movie. Its not often that I watch a kind of horror/drama that really sucks me in like this one did. If you are a fan of the novel you will love the film because it maintains the story and doesn't deviate to far from what Ketchum wrote. I would say definitely go pick this one up, you won't regret it.
- Luke Franklin