Hard to Watch, Impossible to Look Away
Chris Kavan - wrote on 02/29/08
Going into The Girl Next Door without knowing what's coming is a tough proposition because even when you know what to expect, it doesn't make it any easier. Based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, which in turn is based on an true crime, The Girl Next Door follows a young boy, David and the new teen girl who has moved in next door.
It soon becomes apparent that this new home is not going to be a happy home. The family Matriarch, Ruth, and her three boys, start a cycle of punishment leading to abuse, degradation in a downward spiral that can only lead to one place. What makes it the worse is that all the neighborhood children know, and many participate, in the terrible acts and no one acts until it is much too late.
Some may fine this exploitive, as the story takes liberties with a very true crime - adding more horror for horror's sake - but I never felt it that way. The more graphic it gets, the more impact you feel. Personally, I found the book one of the toughest reads I've ever been through. The movie doesn't have the same effect, but it's close enough that it makes you feel dirty after watching it, like you'll never be clean again. Even if it goes a bit far, it's enough to make you sick that people are capable of such things.
This is not a movie to derive pleasure from. Anyone who says otherwise either has a sick sense of humor or is just disturbed. It's not a movie you will just pop in sometime. It's a downer with very heavy subject matter. It's tough enough watching alone, I can't imagine what it would be like with a group (or in a theater). It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.
Besides the subject matter, which is considerable, The Girl Next Door is a sufficient film. The acting is stiff at times, relying on untested child actors, but it does a good job of conveying naivety, fear, anger, loathing - the emotions are still there. Blanche Baker plays a truly terrifying Ruth - you can chart her decent into madness as the film progresses. I must also give praise to Blythe Auffarth, who plays the victim Meg. Any actor who has to get into that kind of character, it must be an incredible strain.
It's hard to recommend this film. It's powerful and it will stay with you for a long time but that's also its downfall: with something so unnerving it takes a strong will, and a stronger stomach, to tackle film.