THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
After a young teenage girl Meg and her crippled sister Susanís parents die, she finds herself at the mercy of an abusive Aunt. She only finds friendship through one of the neighborhood boys who witnesses her torment.
Is it good movie?
Jack Ketchumís The Girl Next Door reminded me a little of Audition. In the beginning, it seems to be offering up a very different movie than it turns out to be. This can be a very powerful way to tell a story if done well. And as did Audition, this succeeds. We are introduced to a young teenage boy named David (Daniel Manche) and several of his friends. It is a time of innocence back in the 1950ís and it feels very much like Stand By Me. When David meets a pretty girl named Meg (Blythe Auffarth) who lives with his friends mother Ruth (Blanche Baker) and seems to be a little afraid of her. It seems after her and her crippled sister Susanís parents die, the are both sent to stay with Ruth. And Ruth seems to have a few issues with the girls. But David finds this surprising, being that Auntie Ruth is always hanging with the boys, offering them beers and talking about naked girls. Auntie is just one of the guys and sadly, far worse than he could ever imagine.
One day when David is getting some food, Meg asked him if she could have some because she hasnít eaten in two days. When he ask her why, she tells him that Ruth wonít let her eat because she thinks sheís fat. Up until this moment, and even much further in, this feels like a coming of age story that deals with child abuse, but that is a disservice to leave it at that. What happens in the last forty minutes or so is horribly brutal and will not sit well with too many people. In no way is this a blood and guts kind of picture, but when Auntie finally shows her true colors with a bunch of onlookers (her sons and all their friends) it becomes an almost unbearable watch. I really hated this woman more than you normally hate a character in a film as well as these kids who did nothing, and even find enjoyment in Meg's pain. They are vicious and sick and need to be taught a lesson!!! Yes, it bothered me. Needless to say, this is a damn powerful movie.
As Ruth, Ms. Baker is frighteningly good. Her performance is so ferocious because she takes everything as if she was doing the girl a favor. This is a bitter and resentful woman that finds pleasure in the pain of children. I also felt that Blythe Auffarth as young Meg was stunning. This is a true talent in the making and her performance reminded me of young Reese Witherspoon in another coming of age film The Man in the Moon. Her early scenes are even more heartbreaking because she is glowing with innocence. So once we get to see the ďgamesĒ that she is put through itís all the more terrible.
I canít say that this is an easy watch. Itís actually far from it. What starts as a charming story of kids with a nutty Aunt who seems to have a bit of a mean streak turns into a morbid thriller. Yet the violence is not glamorized or exploitive in any way. This is not a horror film, and I think ďthrillerĒ is even stretching it. But the atrocities committed are very real, sad and painful. After you watch the film and notice that it is ďbased on a true storyĒ it feels even more heinous. Maybe itís one of those films that is very loosely based on facts, but most know the horrors acted out on children is very real. So with that in mind, The Girl Next Door is a terrific film that only suffered for me because of how damn long it took for one of the characters to do the right thing. I also found Davidís parents to be sort of wasted here. I almost found their scenes to be taking away from the power of the film. But still, this is a well made and thoughtful film, albeit a very dark experience for the viewer.
Video / Audio
It is a horrible thought that people really do some of the things in this movie to children. But it does and it happens far too often. This is a complex and thoughtful exploration of what it takes to protect somebody from another person with whom you trust. For over half the movie, it barely hints at the darkness the final act would take. When those moments arrive, it becomes a difficult and sad thing to watch. You grow to feel for these characters and when this young girl finds herself at the mercy of a monster, it is much more painful than most any horror movie villain that you could ever think of. And within this film is a touching story of trust being misused and trampled on by the ones who should be helping. It is very tastefully shot, even with several moments of torture. Not once does director Gregory Wilson exploit those which should be protected. I highly recommend The Girl Next Door, but with a warning, this is a sensitive subject and might be a very uncomfortable watch for those who have issues with violence against young women.