The Girl Next Door (2007)

The Girl Next Door is a surprise – at first it disarms you, then it gradually throws things a little off kilter and finally it sends everything plummeting headlong into hell. Riveting, horrific, upsetting and fantastically created, The Girl Next Door is a compelling, uncomfortable watch. Excellent work.

It’s the summer of 1958 and young teenager David Moran has new neighbours. The Chandler family, run by Ruth Chandler, has kindly taken in Meg and Susan, two girls tragically orphaned in a car crash. From the outside the Chandler household seems like a loving, caring place to live, and “Auntie” Ruth is greatly loved by the local kids because of her liberal approach to language and her constant stack of free beer. She treats her sons maturely and with respect… yet Ruth looks at the two girls with less love. A lot less love…

To say much more would spoil the surprise of The Girl Next Door, and essentially this is what makes it work so incredibly well. It feels like a well made 1950’s drama about a boy’s infatuation with his neighbour, but gradually and carefully it descends towards darkness. I recommend you stop reading this and seek it out immediately. Oh, but don’t mix it up with Luke Greenfield’s sexy teen comedy of the same name…

The Girl Next Door disarms you. Based on a Jack Ketchum novel, it has shades of Stephen King’s IT and Stand By Me, and initially just feels like a film about local children in the 50’s getting up to mischief, but we soon realize, however, that the villain of the piece is Ruth Chandler, an inwardly twisted woman with an irrational hatred for the female race. At first her dislike of Meg is subtle and underhand, snide and cruel, but slowly it escalates into something more raw. More obvious. More physical.

Blanche Baker as Ruth and Blyth Auffarth as Meg give Oscar-worthy performances throughout The Girl Next Door, both so believable and realistic it’s difficult to watch at times. Meg is a wonderful girl, innocent and naive, and Ruth takes that innocence and ravages it. It is powerful stuff – you genuinely hate Ruth, with utter disgust and horror at her despicable behaviour and her “lessons” she doles out so casually.

The most upsetting thing about The Girl Next Door is David’s silence and inability to stop the mental and physical abuse Meg endures at the hands of patriarch Ruth. As a child he is helpless, and outnumbered by Ruth and her three deviant boys, and although he wants to stand by and help Meg, he instead becomes a silent partner in the horrible mistreatment that follows.

It is incredibly uncomfortable watching, gut-twisting, sickening stuff, and a world away from the horrors of instant disgust gorenography films of recent years. It’s slow burning and sinks deep into the mind and refuses to leave.

There are also some wonderfully crafted moments created by director Gregory Wilson – as David approaches the tied up Meg in the basement, with thoughts of freeing her, a puff of smoke over his shoulder shows he’s too late. Ruth has arrived – and the violence is not done too explicitly or casually, but with subtle malice that’s always disturbing.

Framing the piece are some superfluous present day segments, showing how a now haunted, harrowed adult David Moran (William Atherton) stalks sadly through life with little joy. In true narrative cheese, he tells us “Nothing in my life has been right since the summer of 1958”. Finding out why is an ordeal for everyone.

The Girl Next Door is about the absolute and unequivocal loss of innocence, and it is horrendous and distressing and very effective. The fact it’s loosely based on an actual incident – the torture and death of Sylvia Likens in 1965 – is even more harrowing.

Brilliantly acted, directed and scripted, The Girl Next Door is a very well crafted film. Horribly uncomfortable, brutal, sadistic and incredibly saddening, this is powerful, excellent stuff. Watch it.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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