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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.