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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Girl Next Door

girl I often throw on some random movie before I go to bed most every night, which is usually pretty late because I stay up either writing, reading other blogs, or watching a movie. Even though I'm only putting something on to fall asleep to, I tend to get all picky about my choice and try to find something I’m in the mood for, even though I plan on going nite-nite. There is no real rationale at this time of night since I am tired and it’s late, so out of frustration, I usually just say, “fuck it, I’ll watch this.” More often than not, I pass out almost too quickly, but once in a great while, I get sucked in.

This is something that is a bit of a double edged sword, on one hand, I am watching a movie that has me drawn in enough to keep me watching, on the other, I am staying up way too late. This was the case when I decided to watch 2007’s, The Girl Next Door. Based off the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name, this is a film that is just tough to shake for some reason and the reason is pretty clear. It’s a difficult film to watch and while there are many films that are hard to watch do to the brutality of what they portray, The Girl Next Door is more so, due to its true to life story basis.

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Martyrs would be a recent example of something that is difficult to watch for some and The Girl Next Door doesn’t get quite as brutal on-screen as that film does, but knowing what is happening off-screen and the fact that some of these things did actually happen, is what sets a film like this apart. Set in the late 50’s, the film is told through the eyes of young David (Daniel Manche), who befriends Meg (Blythe Auffarth) the new girl in the neighborhood who recently moved into the house next door to David. Meg and her younger sister Susan (Madeline Taylor), have been sent to live with their aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker) and her three sons after their parents died in an auto accident.   

girl4 Many of the neighborhood kids, along with David, are friends with Ruth’s three boys and often hang out at their house, smoking butts, and drinking beer provided by the clearly lax and very outspoken Ruth. Ruth is clearly not all there and seems to be plagued by metal issues, as well as having a strange bitterness that would seem to come from past relationships with men. She often spews out improper advice for the children about men and women, and things of a sexual nature. Being kind of old, past her prime, and very bitter, Ruth is not a big fan of the youthful and pretty new member of her household and out of jealousy, she begins to slowly attack Meg in different ways.

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Things start off in a verbal manner, with Ruth calling Meg a slut and belittling her in front of the other teenage boys, as well as her younger sister. The abuse escalates quickly and soon Ruth starts going a little too far with things physically. She gets the very impressionable boys involved with the abuse, which gets worse and worse as each day passes. There is a pack like mentality with the younger boys as they join in and since no one is there to tell them it’s wrong, they begin to show incredibly sickening signs of sadistic instability. Meg is at times tied up by her wrists, hanging from the ceiling in the basement, as Ruth allows the boys to play games that eventually result in Meg being stripped down to nothing.

girl5 As degrading as that is, Ruth does not allow the very curious boys to touch Meg in a sexual way…at first, but as each day passes, Ruth lets the boys do more and more to this poor girl. I wont get into too much more about what happens to Meg, but she is physically and sexually abused beyond anything imaginable, and even though much of it is off screen, it's still tough to handle at times. I found myself very frustrated with every next step Ruth and the boys would take things, mostly because I couldn’t believe someone could do this, let alone without any of the kids saying they thought it was wrong. The only boy who was not down for all of this was David, who wanted to help Meg, but was afraid and very confused by the overpowering Ruth.

girl6 That was actually a little frustrating too, the fact that Meg’s only friend didn’t really tell anyone, when he had many opportunities to do so. My frustration also partially came from wanting to see the abuse stop, but there comes a point when you realize that it will not stop, until it’s too late. As I mentioned, The Girl Next Door is based on a true story, the story of Sylvia Likens. After watching the film, I looked it up and there are some differences to the character backgrounds with the parents dying, but the core of the abuse is there. Actually, the true story is almost worse than what happens in the film due to the fact that in real life, the parents of Meg and Susan were just scum bags that pawned off their children, as opposed to dying in a car wreck.   

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As far as the film itself goes, it is decently made, but feels slightly like a made for TV movie in spots, but it was put out by STARZ!, so that explains that. It doesn’t take away from the films overall effect, however. Most of the acting is decent, with all of the boys being very good, as well as Blythe Auffarth as Meg, who comes off very likable and sweet, making it all the more difficult to witness what happens to her. Blanche Baker starts off a little sketchy at first, but gets better as the film goes along, plus, she has the right look and demeanor when it comes to playing such a sick woman. I was also happy to see the great William Atherton, who plays an adult David and sort of bookends the film as it is his memory that we are watching in the movie. And lastly, I will bring up the 50’s setting, which is one that I always find enjoyable and is something often seen in stories by Stephen King, who incidentally is a big fan of the film, even comparing it to a twisted version of Stand By Me. Twisted indeed. 

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While I consider Martyrs a masterpiece of the modern horror genre, I certainly do not think it’s for everyone, I would say the same for The Girl Next Door. However, even with it’s many flaws and difficult situations, I think it is an important film to watch, just due to the fact that it is based off such a harrowing story. It is one that should be told, just out of respect for what happened in real life to a poor innocent girl. This is a film and story that shows what can go on at any time, at any place, and by the hands of anyone one around us, and to be reminded of this fact, is truly frightening and saddening.

17 comments:

  1. what made this hard to watch for me mainly were the piss poor performances, especially by Blanche Baker. wow she was awful

    in the hands of a more capable director, with much better actors and a screenplay that wasnt out just to shock (the motives of the characters for instance... missing in action?), this could have been a compelling story

    all it felt like to me by the end was a badly exploitative piece.

    i hated it

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  2. I sit in the middle on this film. It captures a lot of that wrongness of the Ketchum novel, but its low budget does get in the way here and there when it comes to talent. I love some little moments, like the ant war at the beginning that sort of unsettles everything. Thought the actress playing Meg was great, and I didn't have a problem with Baker--she's damaged, crazy, but able to play off somewhat normal enough to not go too over the top.

    I highly recommend the novel, mostly because it does a much stronger and more interesting job of playing with David's character. The film makes him just kind of a frustrating wimpy kid who always knows what's going on is wrong but is ust too afraid to say anything. The novel drops verrrrry slight hints that at times, he's intrigued by the violence, making his cowardice far more layered.

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  3. This is a film that I have not yet seen, but have been very interested in checking out, and its been on my netflix queue for quite a while. I think I've been putting it off because these types of stories are particularly disturbing to me, much more disturbing that any other type of horror movie really.

    I also watch movies late at night as I am falling asleep, but I usually choose something I've seen previously, so that if I fall asleep at some point I'm not really missing anything. It seems like when I put something brand new on I tend to stay awake later than I should, just because I'm trying that much harder to stay awake, and then I really suffer the next day!!!

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  4. I'm a pretty big fan of the book, even though I can't read it again. Very gut-wrenching.

    The film, despite some flaws, captures a lot of the essence of the book despite the limitations. Everything was handled with respect for the story and the actual events. The film itself really holds back where the book does not (even though Ketchum said he also toned down a lot of it for his take).

    I'm glad in both versions contain the ever-present resiliency of Meg which is the most integral part.

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  5. Also, if you're really curious to explore more takes on the crime, check out An American Crime, a made-for-Showtime film with Ellen Page and Catherine Keener about the same case. I actually think The Girl Next Door (both the film and obviously, the novel) is much more interesting, but completists might be curious to see another take.

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  6. Loaf: I do think the film would have been much better if it had a better director, but I do think that it being a made for cable movie, there is only so much money that will be put into it. I could tell from the first second that it was made for "Lifetime XXX," so I guess I gave some of the quality a pass for the subject matter.

    It being based on a true story, I don't see it as shock for the sake of shock so much as showing the horror that was actually faced. The film is "loosely" based on the true events, but the torture and abuse is all very true and that stuff did happen for the most part. And that is really the biggest draw of the film for me...if it wasn't based on a true story, I probably wouldn't have liked it nearly as much.

    Emily: It is very messy at times, and there is a lack of direction at points, which is certainly due to it being such a low budget film. Still, cheap or not, I was captivated by the level of sadism that some of the characters could reach. It was bothersome at times.

    David's character was incredibly frustrating, but if he was intrigued by the violence like in the book, that would have made a little more sense as to why he didn't do anything earlier. A lot of my frustration was very double edge because it was frustrating and almost annoying that nothing was done, but that is almost what made me like the film. I was invested enough in Meg, to be affected by the movie in that way.

    Emily C: I do the same thing...I put on something I have seen before and I pass out, but when I watch a movie I've never seen before, I end up awake much longer!

    The movie is sloppy, but the draw of the film and what makes it work is the disturbing subject matter. That's why I liked it, it is something that could happen and did happen and real life is always way more frightening than what can be written for screen.

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  7. Chris: Meg really made the film as she was played in such a strong and also very kind way, that it was all the worse that she was so mistreated. If you aren't invested in her, you won't care about what happens.

    Obviously, reading a story is aways all the more descriptive and investing in comparison to something seen on screen, so I can imagine the novel being even more difficult to take in than the film. So, I can only imagine how tough a read it is at certain points, but I'm gonna have to check it out at some point.

    Emily: I did see that there was another movie based on the subject matter, and one that has some solid talent attached to it, so I will have to look into it. Catherine Keener plays unlikable so well, I can imagine she is fantastic in it.

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  8. I still haven't brought myself to watch this film, as the book really left me unnerved. I'm divided on Ketchum's work asa whole as it's clear he's a talented writer, but there's a woman-hating streak running about the width of a four lane highway throughout all his work that leaves me cold.

    Love the new layout, btw.

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  9. Thanks, Mike!

    I haven't read any of Ketchum's books, mostly due the the fact that I just do not read enough (novels) period. Emily is a big fan of his, so I would be curious as to what she thought about it as far as a female perspective and all.

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  10. My ears were ringing!

    Yes, I am a big fan. I can see someone finding misogynistic elements in Ketchum's work, but I think he's more generally brutal than specifically offensive to women. Yes, plenty of his stories include violence against women, but it generally feels more fitting with the stories than blatantly gratuitous.

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  11. Both this film and American Crime take different approaches but I liked this one better (though Page's performance is top notch).

    Very disturbing but very mesmerizing too.

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  12. fuck i typed a great response here and didn't pay attention to the stupid word verification and lost it

    just know that it was genius

    and i am too lazy at the moment to write it again

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  13. ok shit

    i'll try again

    i did not realize this was made for cable. i figured it had a tiny theater run or something. i was not all that initiated to even look into it after seeing it. i guess i can give it more of a pass after knowing that

    but my biggest issue and what i felt was exploitative about the way the movie was presented i guess was not the portrayal of the abuse but rather the lack of motivation for the kids involved and their unchildlike behavior

    these kids said some ridiculous things that i cannot imagine an 11 year old saying. their dialogue and behavior was more along the lines of a hacky b-horror flick was a fat man in a dirty clown suit.

    the kids were presented as little monsters getting sadistic pleasure out of this abuse. i think in reality kids could join in on this gang mentality, yes, but would have some level or remorse or at the very very least just be going along with it, ignorant to the fact they would be truly hurting someone long term.

    i rolled my eyes so many times at the way the lady's sons in particular behaved like a crappy movie villain/serial killer and not like an asshole kid not really understanding the repercussions of their actions

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  14. This is actually the kind of film I dodge simply because of the content. The literal transposition of what happens frightenly every second of the day unravels all my good sense, and films like these stay with me for a long time like a dark cloud. You do make it sound like it's relatively well done though.

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  15. Emily: I knew you would have some input! I probably watched this movie because you speak positively of Ketchum from time to time!

    Jaded: I am gonna have to check out An American Crime if not to see a different take on the story, than just for the solid cast.

    Loaf: Get it together man! I've done that plenty of times and just said forget about it!

    The kids are a little over the top and I too found it a little odd that at least one of them would seem to be against it, or afraid of the whole situation. Then again, those kids are all probably messed up from their mom smoking butts and drinking canned beer throughout her pregnancy!

    Ashlee: It's well done with how it made me feel more than how it's made technically. It is a dark reminder of just how evil people can be and can do so with no remorse.

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  16. I actually enjoyed this one more than MARTYRS and felt that it was considerably more believable. Not enjoyable, by any means, but disturbing and cruel

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  17. It's definitely more believable than Martyrs, and lord have mercy if there were even a chance that what happens in Martyrs could happen in real life. I do personally think Martyrs is on a different playing field in terms of meaning and film making though.

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