JANUARY 9, 2008
Knowing how terrible Blockbuster is when two movies share a title (try to rent the 2003 Scream Bloody Murder from them), I wonder how many folks will queue the well-meaning and occasionally funny The Girl Next Door (2004), starring Elisha Cuthbert and Timothy Olyphant, and end up getting The Girl Next Door (2007), the decidedly UNFUNNY movie about a crazy woman instructing her teenage children and their friends to abuse her niece in the basement.
Luckily the latter film is the one I intended to see, so all is well. The film is quite good, an adaptation of a novel considered unfilmable (you know, like Ballard’s Crash, and in that case they were apparently right). And I was happy to see the ‘torture’ scenes filmed as un-exploitative as possible, which helped sell the realism, not to mention make it far more effective than trash like Driller Killer or whatever.
This movie isn’t for the faint of heart. The structure is solid in that it gradually builds the level of abuse that this poor girl has to endure, slowly drawing you into the terrible things that are inflicted on her (as opposed to something like the Saw films, which more or less begin with horrible abuse and go from there). No, here it starts with subtle verbal putdowns, escalates to harsher words and slight physical abuse, and ends up... well, let’s just say any female viewers will likely never want to see a blowtorch ever again.
There are two problems I had with the film, however. One is that it’s too short. As well paced as the girl’s downfall is, we don’t get to really know her abusers beforehand. I think an extra 10-15 minutes devoted to these kids’ regular lives prior to the “main event” of the film, as well as their relationship with the aunt, would have helped. The other problem is that the girl playing the lead is clearly around 18, whereas all of the other kids are about 10-14 (her age is never specified, but we are led to believe they are around the same age). Since the whole idea is built around the notion that kids will do whatever adults tell them to do, it seems like they should listen to HER as well, since she’s at least old enough to be in a position to tell them what to do as well. It also makes her character look slightly retarded in her early scenes, because she is ACTING like she’s much younger. Kind of odd.
Still, I can appreciate this sort of “spin on the suburban dream” type movie, and the young actors are pretty good. And, like so few horror movies are anymore, it’s genuinely upsetting (knowing that it’s based on a true story (Google it) certainly helps in that department – if anything the movie is fairly tame compared to what really happened to the poor girl). Plus, there are TWO Die Hard veterans in the cast (über-asshole William Atherton, and the lovable bomb technician guy from Die Hard With A Vengeance), so it comes highly recommended.
One thing I do NOT recommend is the audio commentary by the writers. I haven’t listened to the director/producer one, but the screenwriters drone on about symbolism and whine about script changes. They also frequently disagree with one another about “who cares?” type things. At one point, Jack Ketchum (the author of the book) makes fun of the two screenwriters for pointing out the symbolism of a “phallic tree with a vaginal gash”. I should note one of the writers is Daniel Farrands, who wrote the gist of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (a film heavily re-written/edited by Dimension and director Joe Chapelle). It’s difficult to discern his screenwriting talent from one film that was heavily reworked by outside sources and another that’s based on a novel, but regardless, on a basic (read: ignorant) level, this is a much better film than you might expect from the writer of the 2nd worst Halloween movie. And there’s even a Haddonfield reference!
What say you?