The Girl Next Door (2007) Review
Written by: Poppascotch
The Girl Next Door is a good film, but seems to at times, lose its footing. On the surface, there is a horrific story which involves a number of unspeakable acts performed on an adolescent girl for seemingly no apparent reason. Underneath however, a solid social commentary is trying hard to get through. But with the poor execution of the technical aspects of the film, we are robbed of what could have been the most disgusting commentary on society and human behavior ever.
Set in the late 1950s in a booming post war economy, everyone was home and chasing the American Dream. However an accident has shattered the lives of teenage Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and her younger sister Susan (Madeline Taylor) when their mother and father are killed in a car crash. Now living with their Aunt and her three boys, the girls start to become subjects of ridicule and torture.
The older sister Meg gets the brunt of the torture which starts off as starving her and turns into rape and various other unspeakable acts. This is where the first strike against the film is delivered to us in the form of the actors however. Ruth (Blanche Baker) seemed a bit too unmotivated, leading the torture on Meg for no other reason than because she felt like it (and wanted to turn Meg away from becoming a floozy?) The cast of young boys in various roles also hurts the film where as they just don't have the chops and the talent yet to deal with such heavy issues and the barrage of feelings that accompany them. It's not that I feel that some of these kids don't show promise, they are just to young to understand and utilize all the tools necessary to become great actors (watch Mean Creek for the correct execution of child actors).
The film is also shot digitally leaving many scenes that are extremely brightly lit. For the outdoor scenes and the living room scenes, this will do fine, but this lighting seems to follow us down into the dark corridors of the basement where it just doesn't belong. It's like watching Die Hard, but having the entire film take place during the day. The mood just feels off. Camera setups also tend to feel awkward, keeping many people in each shot rather than working off of close ups of the actors (almost none at all in the group scenes) and very little camera movement seems to keep the viewer in a sense of detached perception.
For all its faults though, there is an inherent message that is trying to squeak its way though the awkward camera setups and off-lit scenes. That message seems to populate more and more films lately such as a few recent vigilante films (The Brave One, Death Sentence) and the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, In these films, there is an inherent lapse or bastardization of authority where the ones we look up to have either failed us, or taken us in the wrong direction. In this case, the authority figure Aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker) is solely responsible for leading her children as well as a few neighborhood kids down a path of unforgivable acts including the rape and mutilation of Meg . Ruth doesn't often force these children down this path, but she does condone the behavior, taking out some kind of hatred for the world on her niece.
In the end the film feels just a bit too sanitary to be tackling the horrible issues expressed in the film leaving it to sometimes feel like a made for TV movie rather than the harrowing dark picture it should have been shot as.