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Review of Jack Ketchum's horror film "The Girl Next Door"

Updated on June 21, 2012

Introduction

Produced and released in 2007, Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door tells the famous tale of the mutilation and eventual murder of Sylvia Likens during the summer of 1965. Many documentaries, novels, and news reports have been made on these incidents, but The Girl Next Door is one of the most well-known and acclaimed representations of the events that took place for those years. Written by Jack Ketchum, the film was directed by Gregory Wilson and stars Blanche Baker and Daniel Manche.

Reviews of this film have been mostly positive; it has been certified fresh by RottenTomatoes and many critics have praised the films realistic and emotional representation of real human suffering. So is this movie worth the watch, or are avid horror fans better off skipping this one? Let's see...

Review

So the movie starts with a wealthy looking businessman walking along the street until he sees a homeless bum hit by a car. The man quickly jumps to the hobo's aid and gives him CPR until paramedics cart the wounded man away. As the man walk home, he sits at his desk and recounts the events of which this movie is about.

David is a young boy in a little town during the 1960s when he gets two new neighbors who've moved in with their Aunt Ruth. Ruth often has the neighborhood boys over to teach them lessons about women and life. She encourages them to drink beer and take on negative perceptions of women's nature and characteristics. Ruth certainly makes for an interesting character; she is cruel and selfish and self-hating. She has obviously taken trauma in the past and has no confidence in herself of her gender. She takes these feelings out on her two nieces, often times spanking them in front of the neighborhood boys and eventually prompting them to partake in the punishment.

David, the only slightly moral figure in the bunch, is conflicted on what action to take. He is torn between his need for acceptance from his peers and his fondness of Meg, the girl who takes on most of Ruth's wrath. Events escalate, as they often do, as Ruth's sanity deteriorates, as it surely does. When Meg speaks to a police officer about her torment and prompts a quick investigation of the home (unsurprisingly to no avail) Ruth is enraged and banishes Meg and her sister to the basement. Here, the boys sexually, physically, and verbally abuse Meg, who is stripped and bound by ropes.

Of these horrible acts, some of the most gruesome include Ruth burning words into Meg's body, mutilating her genitals with a blowtorch, and allowing the boys to rape her. It sure provokes emotion from the viewer, seeing such atrocities committed against these innocent girls. It eventually has the same effect on David, who tries to assist Meg in an escape attempt. The climatic scene ensues when David, who was found and trapped there, causes smoke to rise from the house due to fire. This catches the attention of passerbys, who call the police, but also the attention of Ruth, who goes to the basement only to be beaten to death by a hiding David.

The police arrive and see the state of a now dying Meg and her scared sister in the corner. David kneels by Meg, sorrowful that his inaction has caused so much pain. Right before Meg succumbs to her wounds and dies, she tells David she forgives him for waiting so long to stand up and that the last thing you do is what matters. As an adult, David recollects, with much pain, the memories of those painful months, as well as the lessons such strife had taught him.

Overall: 7/10 It is worth the view for what it does. As a hardened horror fan, the more violent scenes don't have as much an effect as I know the director would have wanted. Worth the watch if you are easily affect by movies like this, it will be worth more to you if you can fully feel the empathy, which is perhaps a trait lost after so many movies with much more torturous scenes. Great acting but feels overly-stereotypical of 50's society. Rent it.

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    • duppycon2 profile image

      duppycon2 5 years ago from Yuma AZ

      I was actually kinda disappointed in "Girl Next Door". I just got the feeling I was supposed to be shocked and/or horrified simply by the thought of the scenario. I know it was loosely based on a true story, which is indeed tragic, but it seemed like the director was content to just hammer away at the obvious (ie. "Isn't this horrible???", "Can't you just feel the moral ambiguity of the boy???", etc.)

      I actually preferred "The Woman", another Ketchum-based movie.

      Either way, good review, Steve. Voted up!

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Hello, Kael, thanks for the reading and commenting! Check out my other horror reviews for some better films.

    • Kael Myril profile image

      Kael Myril 5 years ago from Tacoma, WA

      Nicely done, appreciate the info, I'm off to look it up! Thanks!

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Right on the money, hardly a horror film at all. I categorized it as such due more to general classifications, as there were attempts to make it align more with that genre. I also would call it torture, as that is what it is passed off as. Cutting, beating, rape, a home-performed clitorectomy, and more? Torture isn't an unfitting label.

    • SPomposello profile image

      SPomposello 5 years ago from NY

      While the film somewhat differs a lot from the true story of Sylvia Likens, I found that it was perhaps the most effective adaptation so far. I sort of wanted to smack David at times for not opening his mouth earlier, but overall, good movie. I never really thought of it as a horror movie per se. It was kind of like "Stand by Me" meets "A Boy Called It". I never saw 'horror' as the dominant factor in the movie, for me, the drama was more dominant.

      However... I watched "An American Crime" not too long after watching this one, that film is a bit closer to what really happened (in terms of story and characters) but they left soooooo many things out and toned it down. About 95% of what really happened to Sylvia doesn't even happen in "An American Crime", you don't really feel anything when she's getting 'tortured' (umm, if you wanna call it that, I mean) whereas in "The Girl Next Door", there's so much emotion buried within those torture scenes.

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Thanks for reading and commenting! A lot of the impact this movie could make on the viewer is dependent on the viewer's ignorance that events like this, and worse, have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen every day. Check out my other reviews, if you'd like =)

    • profile image

      icountthetimes 5 years ago

      I saw this movie a couple of years back as I try to check out all horror themed movies which make an impact. I agree that it will be shocking to anyone not familiar with the more extreme side of horror. I did hear that some artistic license had been used in the telling of the story, which could be seen as somewhat objectionable considering its themes.

      All in all I'd say that I think your rating is dead on. I look forward to reading more of your reviews :).

    • Steve Orion profile image
      Author

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Have you seen the film? Do you agree with my review? Let me know down below!