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The Girl Next Door
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Gregory Wilson

Written By:
Daniel Farrands, Jack Ketchum, Philip Nutman

Cast:
Blanche Baker, Austin Williams, William Atherton, Kevin Chamberlin, Grant Show, Catherine Mary Stewart, Peter Stickles, Michael Zegen, Daniel Manche, Graham Patrick Martin, Blythe Auffarth, Graham Patrick Martin, Benjamin Ross Kaplan, Dean Faulkenberry, Gabrielle Howarth, Spenser Leigh ., Madeline Taylor, Jennifer Alexander


 
The Girl Next Door (2007)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
August 12th, 2010

Jack Ketchum is certainly not for every taste. As a writer, he explores the darkest side of human nature, and his writing style is so vivid and unflinchingly brutal, it makes the weak-hearted or easily disturbed turn away in revulsion after only a few pages. Stephen King has praised him for eliciting such strong reactions from his readers, and delving into the realm of true horror; others have denounced him as a hack whose stories garner attention only because of their shocking subject matter. Admittedly, I am not one of Ketchum's biggest fans. However, I do think ‘The Girl Next Door' is one of the most terrifying and upsetting books I have ever read, and this film version does an admirable job of capturing all of its depravity.

It never goes quite as far as Ketchum, but it goes about as far as can be expected. It starts off innocuously enough with children playing; the lovely young Meg (Blythe Auffarth) meets a nice boy named David (Daniel Manche), and they spend time together, and she discovers that he is her neighbor. She, and her younger sister Susan, have moved in with their aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker); their parents were killed in a car accident that left Susan in leg braces.

Ruth has three sons, and lets them drink beer and smoke cigarettes, and discusses sexual topics with them very frankly. David visits a lot mainly to see Meg, but also because he is friends with the two oldest boys, Willie and Donny. Ruth seems resentful of Meg's presence, accuses her of being a slut, and harshly punishes her for perceived acts of disobedience and defiance. She says cruel things to Susan, and has no sympathy for the partially crippled girl. Eventually, Ruth descends into a state of alcohol-fueled madness.

She becomes detached from reality, and, when Meg reports an incident of physical abuse to a cop, Ruth locks her in the basement, depriving her of food and water, and inviting other kids from the neighborhood to harass and torment her. This includes David, who is too scared to say anything to his parents, or to the police, because Ruth threatens to kill him, and he believes that she means it. Many unspeakable things happen to Meg; she lies naked on a dirty mattress, endures probably weeks of nearly constant torture, is reminded that Susan will suffer if she tries to escape. One may be able to guess the grim, painful, tragic, and infuriating outcome, but can never be fully prepared for it.

David reflects on these events as an adult (played by William Atherton), more than 40 years later. They linger in his mind, as they do ours. At the center of the movie is an astonishing performance by Blanche Baker, astonishing in its ferocity; Ruth is a figure of pure evil, and her richly deserved comeuppance is so satisfying it almost negates the awfulness of everything that came before. Her sons are equally culpable in her crimes, especially Willie, but his fate, and that of his brothers, is not addressed.

Ketchum based his book on the very real murder of Sylvia Likens, by her deranged female caretaker Gertrude Baniszewski, in 1965. I kept thinking that David looked a lot like Jeremy Renner. Auffarth deserves credit for her bold and daring work, and for allowing herself to be degraded and humiliated onscreen. Not to be confused with the Emile Hirsch comedy of the same name.

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