The Girl Next Door

2007, Movie, R, 93 mins

Review

GIRL NEXT DOOR, THE | JACK KETCHUM'S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
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Based on Jack Ketchum's deeply disturbing novel, Gregory Wilson's film explores the dark bond between an embittered housewife and a group of apparently ordinary suburban teenagers that leads to torture and murder.

2007, New York: Successful businessman David Moran (William Atherton) witnesses a hit-and-run accident that stirs up painful memories of his childhood in an apparently idyllic suburban town. 1958, New Jersey: New York City-raised sisters Meg and Susan Loughlin (Blythe Auffarth, Madeline Taylor), whose parents died in a car crash, move in with single parent Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker), who is a distant relative, and her three sons: teenage Donny (Benjamin Ross Kaplan), 12-year-old Willie Jr. (Graham Patrick Martin) and 10-year-old Woofer (Austin Williams). Meg, 14, has recovered completely from the accident, while the younger Susan needs leg braces. The Chandler home is a hangout for local kids; "Auntie Ruth" lets them drink beer and talk about sex, conversations she joins and directs with a queasy mix of inappropriate frankness and hypocritical censoriousness. Meg quickly befriends sheltered, slightly younger David (Daniel Manche), who lives next door. Though casually friendly with the Chandler boys, his crush on the smart, curious and pretty Meg drives him to spend more time at their home. As the summer wears on, David becomes uncomfortably aware of a bitter, spiteful side of Ruth he's never noticed. It's focused on the sisters, especially Meg, whom Ruth belittles and mocks with sexual insinuations. Meg reaches out to a local police officer, but his visit only makes Ruth more vindictive. Ruth eventually forces Meg into the abandoned basement fallout shelter, where she encourages her sons and their friends to torment the girl over the course of several weeks. As the abuse escalates from verbal taunts to increasingly vicious and sexualized assaults, David is torn between guilt and fear. He's too young to free Meg himself and too shyly deferential to defy Ruth by going to the police or forcing his squabbling parents (Catherine Mary Stewart, Grant Show) to notice what's happening right under their noses.

Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman's screenplay sticks close to Ketchum's novel, which was inspired by the notorious 1965 torture-murder of Indiana teenager Sylvia Likens. Neither Ketchum nor the filmmakers take an exploitative approach to the material; their focus is the way the youngsters' petty cruelty erupts into murderous sadism through exposure to Ruth, whose homey manner conceals a sociopath's warped worldview. Baker is chilling as Ruth and young actress Auffarth gives a strong performance as the brutalized Meg, which only makes the film's unsettling subject matter more difficult to watch. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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