The Girl Next Door

JANUARY 9, 2008

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

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 (├╝ber-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?

10 comments:

  1. I know how you feel about the swap...i told you i ordered THE BLOB 1988 version..i put it in and got the original...wow...that sucked...but i really want to see this movie...when i get it i'll write you back....now im waiting for the 88 version....the guy who was supposed to be a teen in the original blob...well they added color and he looks damn near 35..should have kept it black and white.

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  2. The original Blob was actually filmed in color, and is awesome.

    Though it's true the teens are nowhere near teenaged. But then again, ever look at a 1950s high school annual? Most kids were trying to look as middle aged as possible.

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  3. This one can be tough to watch, but it's even tougher to look away from it. Good flick.

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  4. OK, I know this should be about the movie, but I can't help but recommend the book (I'm a librarian after all!) Jack Ketchum is one of the best horror writers publishing today. Thanks in large part to Leisure Books, many of his novels are now available in easy-to-find paperback. And this is a very good thing. His prose is tight and persuasive and puts you right into the story. This book is not for the squeamish, and I'll admit, there are a few places where I thought I would have to quit it for my own sanity.

    I wasn't even aware that a film had been made of this book, and am truly intrigued, if a little wary.

    When I was reading the book all I could think was that this is so horrible, this could never happen. Then I read Ketchum's epilogue and he said he based this on a true story from a similar case that occurred at a boarding house in England. Yikes!

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  5. This is what the novel/film is loosely based on:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Likens

    http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/young/likens/1.html

    http://www2.indystar.com/library/factfiles/crime/history/likens_sylvia/sylvia.html

    and not England, but good ol US of A.

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  6. An American Crime is MUCH better, and sadder.

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  7. I just watched this movie a few days ago and man has it stuck with me. It was not as graphic as I thought it would be and thank goodness for that because it was difficult enough for me to watch as is. The lead girl was amazing. You really felt for her. ANd knowing that it is based on a true story breaks my heart.

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  8. Good movie, I thought it would be one of those horrible straight to DVD films but it was pretty good. Very disturbing.

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  9. the look and feel of this film, since it was set in the fifties, gave me the feel of back to the future, with torture porn mash up! this is a truly unsettling film with most of the torture done of screen. i agree the girl looks much older then she should be, but good job cos we get a full frontal and i don't feel fucked up for seeing it ( she was legally 18 at the time of filming phew!). rent don't buy.

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  10. i watched thi film and to be totally honest it mad me throw up it was so sick then i got forced to watch it a second time and i just couldnt do it yeah its jus a movie but stil you know that these things actually happen...

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