Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring William Atherton, Blanche Baker, Blythe Auffarth, Daniel Manche
Directed by Gregory M. Wilson
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
One of the most hyped and disturbing (and rightfully so) books of our lifetime is without question Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (review here). To call it a suburban nightmare is almost an understatement. Here is a book that I never ever thought would make it to film. The reason being? In order to fully convey the horror contained within the book’s pages the filmmakers behind this project would have to have balls of steel. Children torturing and raping children? It wouldn’t fly. Not in our snooty sanitized society. If this material was watered down even a little bit the piece would lose its power and edge. The good news? Director Gregory M. Wilson got all of the books mean spirited sequences right on the nose. The bad? Everything else misses its mark.
The Girl Next Door tells the story of a little boy in the Fifties named David (Manche) who’s about to have the worst summer of his life. While hanging out one day he meets his new neighbor, Meg (Auffarth). Due to a tragic accident in which she lost her parents Meg and her now invalid sister have moved into the home next door to David’s to stay with her Aunt Ruth (Baker). Things start off well enough for the displaced duo as they start learning the ropes of Ruth’s household but then things take a nightmarish turn. Ruth along with her sons and some other neighborhood kids end up familiarizing Meg with a whole new set of ropes. Ropes that leave her nude, starving, bleeding, violated, and suspended from the roof of the cellar. For David who took a hell of a liking to Meg this leads to a constant inner struggle with fear, trust, and what’s right and wrong.
The things that take place during Meg’s imprisonment are the stuff of pure evil. It’s actually hard to watch at points and that is the ultimate tribute to Ketchum’s storied work. The trouble is there are other elements of the film that are equally as hard to watch but they weren’t intentional. Aside from the torture sequences, The Girl Next Door looks and feels like a TV movie. The contrast is so striking at times that it does a lot to take you right out of the film. The acting can be a bit sketchy (expected with a cast of kids) and the few liberties that were taken with the story here and there do a lot to damage the tone of the film. Especially the last few seconds of the movie. Ugh!
Unfortunately, in the end Wilson and crew do nearly as much bad as they do good. I do not blame them though. This is hard material to tackle and I applaud their bravado. They just didn’t seem to have the chops required to get the job done the way that it needed to be. In the hands of an equally as ballsy, yet more technically proficient director and crew we would have gotten a truly dark masterpiece which focuses on the darkest side of human nature.
As far as supplemental material goes we get a pretty good package content wise with the standouts surprisingly being the two commentary tracks. The first track with director Wilson, producer Andrew van den Houten, and cinematographer/producer William M. Miller dole out the technical aspects of bringing this project to life while the second with Ketchum and screenwriters Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman bring on the psychological and story telling aspects. Each compliments the other and there’s never a dull moment to be found in either. I almost wish all these guys would have just done one track while all together.
From there we get about seven minutes of cast and crew interviews and then your standard near half an hour long making-of featurette. Basic but really good stuff.
If you’re a fan of Ketchum’s or just the book itself you’ll find a lot to like here, yet I am willing to bet you’ll be left feeling a little underwhelmed by the time all is said and done. Unlike the book, aside from the disturbing torture scenes the film version of The Girl Next Door is completely forgettable. Good thing we’ll always have Ketchum’s written work to keep us pulling our covers up over our heads at night.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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