The Girl Next Door Movie Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Girls just cry. There is nothing we can do about it. – Aunty Ruth
Directed by Gregory M. Wilson
Written by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman, based on the book by Jack Ketchum
2007, 80 minutes, Rated R
Blanch Barker as Ruth Chandler
Daniel Manche as David Moran
Blythe Auffarth as Meg Loughlin
One day, while catching crawlfish down by the local stream, David meets a vivacious young girl, Meg. David obviously is quite taken with Meg, no doubt attracted by her good looks and the way she caught a crawlfish on her first attempt. What's even better, Meg is living with right next door to David. Seems her parents died in a car crash and she and her sister are now living with their Aunty Ruth. Seeing how David is not only a house over, but also friends with Aunty Ruth's boys, he's got a great excuse to see more of Meg.
But, as the summer moves on, and David and Meg become better friends, Meg starts getting more and more withdrawn. Old Aunty Ruth is mistreating her. Badly. Starting with verbal abuse, Ruth quickly moves on to physical. What's worse, Ruth gets not just her boys involved in the abuse, but as time goes on, the neighborhood kids, as well.
Meg tries to tell David what's going on, but he makes excuses for Ruth — you know, maybe she's having a bad day, that sort of thing. But when he finally starts figuring out something is not quite right over at Ruth's house, he's already in the middle of the madness, and it may too late to stop it.
I first read Jack Ketchum's "The Girl Next Door" about two years ago, and it blew me away. The book is brutal, man. Absolutely heart wrenching and disturbing and I was unable to put it down until I finished it. Based on the savage death of 16-year-old Sylvia Marie Likens, who was burned, beaten, tortured and scarred at the hands of a 37-year-old woman and the neighborhood kids, "Door" beat the hell out of me. It is probably one of the most draining books I've ever read.
When I found out a movie was being made from this book, a low-budget indie movie no less, I was both excited and terrified. I knew that the only way "Door" could be made was the indie route — Hollywood would not touch the subject matter with a ten foot pole. But while indie meant more freedom, it also meant acting of a lesser caliber, less location, less effects, less skill all around.
Am I glad The Girl Next Door threw all of those "less's" out the window and delivered a powerhouse of a film.
The first thing I noticed, thankfully, was Door kept its time period in the '50s — the same as the book. Considering the '50s were a safer time, and there was no such thing as a young teen girl strung up in a basement getting the shit kicked out of her, it was imperative that the time period stayed as it was in the book. If it were set any later, it would have lost some of its power. This sort of thing simply did not happen back then. Everything was hot dogs and apple pie. Keeping that element believable would add to the horrifying aspect of what Meg goes through. And, fortunately, the set design was rock solid. The cars, the clothes, the somewhat bland color of the film (not a lot of bright colors here, folks, let's not get too crazy). It felt right. The only thing sadly missing was some music of that time, then it would have been perfect. I certainly can't blame the filmmakers, though, as I'm sure music rights are a pretty penny.
And Door just doesn't follow the book in just its time period, it does a damn fine job of keeping as close to the book in a movie's condensed format. While there is some character development lost on Ruth's sons, it's so easily forgivable because Door absolutely captured the core of the book. Meg's story. Because while David is the main character, Door isn't about him. It's about Meg. And the nightmare she lives through. She's burned, beaten and brutalized. All at the hands of kids. Kids that are, for the most part, younger than her. And at the direction of an adult. Her caretaker. As if losing her parents wasn't hell enough, she has to relive hell daily, through pain.
Blanch Barker and Daniel Manche as Aunty Ruth and David were fantastic, too. Manch does a great job at both selling his puppy love for Meg and his inner turmoil of not knowing what to do when it dawn's on him that it's up to him to do something about the evil going on in front of him. Not only does he not have an adult he can really turn to (his parents are having their own issues, and its obvious he doesn't feel he can trust them), but he'll also be turning in his friends. Manche handles it well — especially considering both he (and the character he's playing) is no more than 13 or 14.
And Barker is effectively creepy as Ruth, and her character makes you feel more and more uncomfortable as she slowly loses more and more of her mind. Some of her lessons to her sons are just…off. She has a low-opinion of women, but she doesn't realize it because she acts as if she's a strong women. She's a walking contradiction, and certifiable at that. Once she starts one of her rants, as much as you want to turn away, you can't.
While Door has many great things going for it, the film's coup de grace is, hands down, Blythe Auffarth. Her performance as Meg is mindnumblingly good. It's not so much what she says with her mouth, but what she says with her face. Some of the best scenes in the movie are the looks she gives David, when he is completely clueless to her situation. At one point, when she begs him to buy her a hamburger as she hasn't eaten in two days, she gives him such a look of sadness and compassion of his lack of understanding, it moved me. She doesn't hate him for not seeing what's going on. She almost understands. Auffarth is flat out amazing. The movie would have been enjoyable without her, but I seriously doubt it would have left the impact it did. She nails every line, every scene, every moment. She is a rock star.
If there's one small quibble I have with the film, it's the ending. The movie did so good keeping with the book, I'm curious on why it ended like it did. If you are going to beat the hell out of a 15-year-old girl, damn near as brutal as the book portrayed, why would you change the ending, while keeping the bottom line the same? The book's ending was more powerful, as what David does is more of a quiet rage as opposed to the rage displayed in the film. Again, it's minor, but it's something that stuck out to me, as it will for some of those who read the book.
Either way, it ends up being damn near irrelevant, because the movie is an amazing piece of cinema. It's vicious and unmerciful, without being exploitive.
While audio, video and features won't be graded, as this is a screener, the movie looks to be shot on film, and is beautiful. Also, I can only hope (and beg, if necessary), that Ketchum does a commentary on the final release.
I was nervous about The Girl Next Door, but, as it turns out, there was no reason to be. There is no other recommendation but buy it as soon as it's released. It will turn your stomach, it will wrench your heart, it will leave you thinking about it for days and, as much as you don't want to, it will make you want to watch it again.