Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (2007) Review
Written by: the5thdroog
First thing I’m going to say about this movie is, read the book. Once you’ve done that you will probably have a better understanding and idea about what you’re getting yourself into by seeing this movie. I read the book and it made me very angry. I guess that means it is a good thing since it made me feel something so strongly, but I literally threw it to the side when I was done. Not because the writing was bad or the story was terrible, but more because of the things that happened to one character in particular. Poor Meg (poor David as well when I think about it). After reading the book I saw a screening of the movie and was very impressed and a bit surprised at how true to the story they stayed, but luckily for me the images on the screen didn’t come across nearly as unrelenting as the images in my head while reading the book. Enough about the book, this is a movie review.
The story begins with a narrator telling us we don’t know anything about pain. We follow said narrator into the streets of a city where he witnesses a homeless man get hit by a car and then takes it upon himself to try and save the injured. He is successful, but still doesn’t seem to be completely happy. The narrator is David (William Atherton) who we find out has reasons for only considering today’s event a small victory. He goes on to tell us of his childhood, more to the point, a certain summer when he met Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and her sister Susan (Madeline Taylor) who had just moved in next door to him due to a traffic accident that killed their parents and crippled Susan. Ruth (Blanche Baker) happens to be their aunt and nearest relative that was willing to take them in. She has three boys of her own, but feels the need to help her nieces…so it would seem. David (Daniel Manche) takes an interest in Meg, but it is nothing much more than a crush due to how young they are, but they become good friends just the same. As the summer moves along and we get to know the more layered versions of Ruth, we realize that she is very resentful of Meg and begins to become a bit strict with disciplining both girls. In the process of certain confrontations she makes sure to let her boys witness the punishment and attempts to use them as examples to help her own kids understand the “dangers” of women more. Things continue to get heated and the punishments become more relentless and cruel. We then just watch wondering how far and bad things will actually get and where and how it will end, sometimes flinching on the way there.
The acting is really good in this movie. The way the kids play their parts so innocently only adds to the horror of what is actually taking place. I’ve heard how the young actors where not actually aware of what was going on in certain scenes and at times not even on the set so as not to be scarred for life. The director also made it a point to make sure their parents were also present for any of the filming. Baker plays Ruth to a tee. I didn’t like her in the book and I hated her in the movie as well. The young stars, Manche and Auffarth in particular, were completely believable in their roles. I was drawn in to the movie more thanks to that. I don’t know if I should be happy about that or not.
There really wasn’t need for a lot of effects in the film. Most of the stuff that takes place is actually off camera and implied, which in most cases you might be turned off by this fact, in this instance I’m more grateful.
This movie is one that has taken a lot of heat just for being made. It is based on a true case, but the facts aren’t the same. There is another movie that is more true to the history of the event, but I haven’t seen that one yet. I guess people have problems fictionalizing something that is so brutal as what happened here, but maybe it could make it a little easier because, although something like this really happened….David and Meg are just characters in a movie. Should make it a little easier to take yourself out of that dark place knowing that, but it isn’t always that easy. I’ve even heard people refer to this as “torture porn”. That is a total lack of respect for what this movie accomplished. I mean the “torture” is mostly implied and the way it is done is with so much care to the original story that it isn’t done just for the sake of being over the top. It isn’t an easy movie to watch, but it is done very well. It had a “Stand By Me” feel to it, but then showed me one of the worst ways innocence can be lost.