The Girl Next Door (2007)

Rating: B-

Dir: Gregory Wilson
Star: Daniel Manche, Blythe Auffarth, Blanche Baker, Madeline Taylor

PSA: For the love of god, this is not, in any shape, size or form to be confused with the adorable rom-com starring Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert. Though you might be forgiven for some confusion in an opening which feels more like Stand By Me. It begins in the present with David Moran thinking back to his time as a young kid (Manche), hanging out with his pals, back in the late fifties. It’s all bike rides and lush orchestral score, to the point it might make you wonder if you have the wrong film. Though it’s clear something is off, with a certain cruelty to some of the children’s actions, which border on the disturbing. 

David grows to like his neighbour, a girl called Meg (Auffarth). She and her disabled sister Susan (Taylor) are orphans, being brought up by their aunt, Ruth (Baker), who already has several sons of her own. Ruth is not a fit mother, and her neglect of her nieces slowly turns to outright cruelty and abuse, perpetuated by both her and the boys, to the horror of David. Things really get dark after Meg tries to report Ruth to the police. In retaliation, she is strung up in the cellar, and… Things happen. Bad things. Things which are depicted in such an unrelenting fashion, even the most hardened of horror fans may decide to go and do the laundry instead. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

By most accounts, this was toned down from the Jack Ketchum book on which it was based. In turn, the book was toned down from the real-life murder of Sylvia Likens, on which it was based [read about it, if you’re in a “Well, that’s enough Internet for today” mood]. In particular, the reality had no sympathetic David character, and the actual lead perpetrator did not receive such a satisfactory punishment, serving out her jail term and dying a free woman. But the truth would have been basically unfilmable. It’s credit to Wilson that it’s still so impactful, despite the changes, and operating within the boundaries of an R-rating. But you may still wonder how the hell some of the scenes got filmed without child endangerment charges being filed.

The problem, I think, is that the rest of the movie feels very different in tone. Which may have been the intent, but it results in a jarring disconnect of atmosphere. One minute, you’re watching fifties family life, which seems to have strayed in from Leave It to Beaver, the next it’s someone having her clit burned off with a blowtorch (top). I think it would have been more effective to commit full-bore to the horror, though considering what a rough experience the bad stuff provides, I understand a desire to let the audience up for air, now and again. Not a movie I think we’ll be revisiting any time soon. Yet it’s one we certainly will not forget.