The Girl Next Door – Bleak, Sadistic and True

Based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door follows the unspeakable torture and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt…and the boys who witness and fail to report the crime.

Director: Gregory Wilson
Writers: Daniel Farrands (screenplay), Philip Nutman (screenplay)
Stars: William Atherton, Blythe Auffarth and Blanche Baker
Country: USA
Also Known As: Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door
Filming Locations: Fort Lee, New Jersey, USA
Runtime: 91 min

Jack Ketchum’s, The Girl Next door is loosely based on the grisly torture and subsequent murder of Silvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski during the summer of 1965; one of the most heinous crimes in American history. The plot centers on Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and Susan (Madeline Taylor) two sisters who have been sent from New York to live with their aunt, Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker) and three cousins Willie (Graham Patrick Martin), Ralphie (Austin Williams) and Donny (Benjamin Ross Kaplan), in the wake of a horrific car wreck that killed both of their parents. The sisters soon find out that aunt Ruth is a sadistic psychopath that harbors a deep resentment of men and who thinks women are just filthy whores. David, a young boy living in 1950’s Indiana, is neighbor to the Chandlers and becomes infatuated with Meg.

Never having read the original novel by Ketchum, I was aware of this twisted tale by a wiki article I’d read a few years back concerning the 1965 Likens murder; and was thrilled to see The Girl Next Door appear on Netflix a short while ago. The film starts off with an older wealthy man reflecting on a past tragedy, things that could have been different, things he could have changed. We learn that the older man is in-fact David, the protagonist of the film, who as a young boy, befriends Meg and Susan, the tragic victims of the story. The Film is told mainly through David’s perspective as a flashback to his childhood during the summer of 1958. The setting was spot on; retro clothing, classic cars and malt shops depicted a simpler time in The Girl Next Door. One scene in particular involves David and Meg getting a few cheeseburgers and fries which he pays for with fifty cents (I wish). From the chauvinistic macho attitudes to the smoking is healthy mentality, the film really nailed down small town 1950’s USA.

Ruth encourages Willy.

Ruth encourages Willy.

It wasn’t the lazy days catching craw-fish down at the local pond, or the childhood games of truth or dare in the local woods that set the tone of the film, it was the dark and sadistic house hiding in plain sight along the green tree lined streets of suburbia. The house is a meeting place and hangout for the local children, who are prone to smoking and drinking beer; which I might add, the alcoholic Ruth Chandler provides and partakes in. Ruth, the bitterly divorced matriarch of the Chandlers, it seems, has twisted her hatred toward men, sex and infidelity and focused that spite on her nieces; particularly Meg. The older of the two, Meg, is branded without cause or reason, a whore and a slut. Ruth begins poisoning her son’s minds with sexually aggressive thoughts, encouraging them to torment and ridicule their cousin. This is where the film really gets dark. Meg becomes imprisoned in the cellar and used as a punching bag and plaything for the Chandler boys and the local kids (some girls included). She is starved, beaten, ridiculed, tortured and degraded viciously and relentlessly by the boys and their mother; who has convinced all but young David, that Meg is a whore and aught to be treated like one. The film has a lot of sexual overtones, mainly focused around Ruth and her dominance over the children; she is never once seen having any type of relationship with an adult.  One particular scene has Willy raping a very disoriented Meg on a dilapidated old cot in the cellar as his friends look on and his mother encourages; very unsettling material; Ruth then says “A woman is better off loathesome in this world”. David tries in vain to free Meg but fails with tragic consequences, culminating a very bleak and horrific ending. Overall the acting throughout this film and its difficult and harsh subject matter was well done; with mentions going out to Blanche Baker for her performance as the downright sleazy and delusional Ruth Chandler. Blythe Auffarth as Meg also does a great job delivering on what I thought as a very tough role.

Meg confined to the basement.

Meg confined to the basement.

The violence and gore in The Girl Next Door was implied and off-screen as opposed to in your face; which in my humble opinion and considering the subject matter at hand, highly effective. There was one scene, thankfully played out off-screen, that was absolutely horrendous and had this old gorehound cringing in disgust. The real menace was the psychological control Ruth had over her children, David included, and the use of that control in subjecting those children to do her vile bidding. Corrupting their innocence and bending them to her delusional and twisted will. The film is a very disturbing portrayal of a very real event; a shocking revelation about human cruelty.

Overall I enjoyed (I don’t really think ‘enjoyed’ would be the right term here), Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, though it left an odd hollow feeling of despair hanging over me for the rest of the day. The film is, in my humble opinion, a rather drastic look at the loss of innocence. The corruption of the human spirit. And a truly shocking look at how the fragile and impressionable minds of young children can be poisoned by the actions of the very ones they look to for guidance. The Girl Next Door is truly a bleak and terrible look into the abuse that can be carried out and suffered by even the most innocent among us.

The Girl Next Door Rating

The only thing worse was what really happened.

Comments
  1. […] The Girl Next Door – Bleak, Sadistic and True […]

  2. Tyson Carter says:

    Yeah, ‘like’ isnt the best word, but it’s a film I’m glad I’ve seen, if that makes sense… 🙂

  3. Emmy says:

    I love this film. Obviously not the content or the fact that, horrifically, it’s based off a true story, but because of how well done it was. As you mentioned, OP, they nailed the 1950’s vibe. The acting was very good (especially Blythe (Meg)) and though it wasn’t entirely close to what happened to Sylvia (rest in peace), they still did a great job with making you feel the depression, anger and despair that Sylvia must’ve felt before her death without (in my opinion) overdoing the torture that didn’t happen in real life (i.e. the blowtorch scene). The night I first watched this, I was so disturbed and couldn’t believe what I just watched. It probably sounds fucked up, but it became a movie that I grew to really like (took me over a year to get the guts to watch it again though). I also discovered Michael Zegen (who played Eddie, the deeply disturbed, mouthy, lanky kid who verbally abused his sister and suggested cutting up Meg near the end of the film), who has become one of my favorite actors. Overall, this movie has become one of my favorites. I give it a 6.8 out of 10.

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