Friday, January 11, 2008

Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (2007)

Although I haven't read the Jack Ketchum book yet, I was pretty excited to find out this movie was being released on DVD. There's a lot of buzz being generated around this topic right now due to this movie, as well as the premiere of "An American Crime" at the Sundance Film Festival.

Ketchum's book is loosely based on the story of Sylvia Likens, who was the victim of the worst crime in the history of the state of Indiana. Although the details are pretty different from the actual case (I dove into the "true crime" file after seeing this movie), the plot is still terrifying and I certainly had trouble sleeping last night.

Blythe Auffarth stars as Meg Loughlin. After a deadly car accident, her parents are left dead, and her little sister (Susan) left with limited use of her legs. They are sent to live with their aunt, Ruth, who is divorced with three sons. From the beginning of the movie, Ruth is obviously very creepy, and immediately professes her disdain for girls. She's also obviously not a "typical" mom -- as she drinks and smokes with her young sons and their friends.

David is one of those friends, and he takes an immediate liking to Meg. It's obvious that all of the boys in the neighborhood, including David, like Ruth, due to her lax rules and constant innapropriate conversations about sex, girls, etc. So when Meg comes to David asking for food, he is shocked. She admits that she hasn't eaten in two days, and Ruth won't feed her because she believes she is fat.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Ruth's punishments for Meg only become more disgusting and appaling. She begins by tying her up in the basement, trying to force to to "admit" to things that she hasn't done. Keep in mind that she is doing this in front of her sons, and several of the neighborhood children. Unlike the other children, David feels that this behavior is wrong, but feels that there is no one he can tell. He sneaks food and water to Meg, and promises he will help her.

Meanwhile, the torture continues -- Meg is burned, starved, raped, beaten, and the final atrocities are difficult to watch, and sadly, that's not even the extent they went to in the real story. All the time, Ruth continues to tell the boys that Meg deserves this punishment, and tells her sister Susan that if she tells anyone, she will get the same punishments.

It's hard to look at this in terms of a horror movie - it wasn't a gratuitous torture flick like Hostel or Turistas -- it was more along the lines of a terrifying look at what sick humans are capable of - a la The Last House on the Left. This is certainly not one to curl up with popcorn and rate on the scream factor.

I thought this movie was shocking, and well-made. Blythe plays a very emotional and intense role as Meg, and Blanche Baker is very effectively creepy and insane "Auntie" Ruth. I am looking forward (albeit before I eat anything) to An American Crime (which I'm excited to hear is starring the fabulous Ellen Page)

Grade: A (bathtub scene in I Spit on Your Grave - awesome and shocking, but totally f-in sick)