Jack Ketchums 'The Girl Next Door' (2007)




It has been a long time since I've been moved so much by a film. Perhaps the only other time I remember feeling this way was after the first time I saw 'Last House On the Left'. Even that film, in retrospect, didn't leave me with such sadness as 'The Girl Next Door'. In fact, the only other time I remember feeling my heart get ripped out buy the final few frames of a film was the first time I saw Rob Reiners adaptation of 'Stand By Me'.

'Stand By Me' is the perfect place to start when talking about 'The Girl Next Door'. Stephen King himself called the film "...This is the Dark Side Of the Moon Version of Stand By Me". Both films are shot against the back drop of Americana in the mid to late 50's. Both films show a contempt for everyday, normal life, choosing to explore the dark underbelly of the human experience. Both films are even framed the same present day narrator, looking at past events and how they changed him as a person for the better, or in this case, possibly for the worse.

Instead of Richard Dreyfus, our narrator is William Atherton (Ghostbusters), a self loathing, depressed man. He's in his early to mid 50's, with a successful Wall Street career, but two failed marriages have left him a shell of his former self. He retreats to his home, pours himself a glass of scotch and reflects on the only time in his life he's ever really been in love.

Jumping back to the 50's David Moran (Daniel Manche) is still an innocent young man, hunting for cray fish in a stream. He meets Meg (Blythe Auffarth), who along with her sister, has just come to live with her Aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker), Davids next door neighbors. Aunt Ruth is sort of the neighborhood mom. If that Mom was Alice Cooper circa 1981. She gives her troupe of pseudo-pubescent boys beer and cigarettes all while lecturing them about the evils of women and the various venereal diseases they all carry.

Aunt Ruth begins slowly abusing the girls. First verbally. Little quips here and there. Soon, longer more pointed tongue lashings follow. Then the physical violence begins. Violence she claims that will help the girls, repent for not only their carnal sins but all women-kinds carnal sins. At first the violence comes strictly from Aunt Ruth herself, but as the beatings and torture increase, she allows the boys to get involved, taking perverse pleasure in watching them sexually assault Meg. David tries time and again to help Meg, only to find his plans thwarted time and time again by Ruth and her boys.

'The Girl Next Door' was an extremely polarizing film when released. Many people, critics and average ham and eggers like you and I couldn't see past the in your face violence. They lumped it in to the "torture porn" sub genre and moved on. But this film is not about the violence, although it may be why a lot of folks check it out, including myself. At it's heart, the film is a love story, a terribly tragic love story. I am of the opinion if you strip away the violence, the film would still work.

Adapted from a book by Jack Ketchum and based on the true story of Sylvia Likens and her torture at the hands of Gerturde Baniszewskie, 'The Girl Next Door' is a deeply moving love story. If you can see past the overt twisted violence and focus on the story, you will find it incredibly rewarding.

***** stars out of *****

'The Girl Next Door' can be found on DVD and Netflix.

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