I contemplated on how to open this review. Understand this film is inspired by true events, which sadly revolve around the tragic death of teenager Sylvia Likens. A touchy subject that I’m walking on a thin line due to the strong emotions surrounding it. However, this film does not respect its fictional characters or its fictional story as anything more than showing abusers and victims. A shameful depiction indeed as a victim is far more than a victim; they are a person. This film instead of attempting to create a person goes on to make a matr for torture for easy sympathy. Resulting in a cartoony depiction of an actual crime. Even if it wasn’t inspired by true events this film would still remain a bad movie.
The Girl Next Door follows the torture, and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt, and the boy who witness and fail to report the crime. Addressing the Elephant in the room first this film is simply a work of fiction. The most correlation it has to the actual events of Sylvia Likens murder are superficial. The premise itself is barely connectable to the actual crime. The most accurate this film gets is a teenage girl is in the care of a woman she doesn’t know well, said teenage girl has a sister who has polio, said girl is tortured by her caretakers and her children for a lengthy amount of time, and a girl dies. That’s all. Including our main character, David, whose perspective unfolds a series of events is a work of fiction. So simply because you’re inspired by true events does not excuse bad writing.
The main problem with the film is there’s only three characteristics; victims, bystanders, and abusers. These aren’t people nor allow much room for character development. David, our main character and bystander, is a creation of fiction which makes you ponder why he doesn’t report the crime to any authority or tell any other adults. He has no reason too since he doesn’t have neglectful parents both of whom even ask David if anything is wrong. David mother even questions him as he asks if he could sleep over again at Ruth Chandler (the abuser) house. David mother wonders why he would want to sleep over, and David remains quiet. David never shows any deviant desire to torture Meg (the victim), nor sees her as a object to claim as his property as during their first meeting David treats Meg nicely. During a simple scene when David is buying a hamburger, when Meg asks David if he could buy some food for her to eat because of her aunt cruel treatment David buys Meg a hamburger. This scene is important as David mentally doesn’t show signs of wanting something more nor physically provides hints he deserves something for his kindness. Making it out of character for David to remain silent on the crime considering how kind he is, and his treatment towards Meg. Painting a clear picture of what’s good and what’s bad showing remorse towards Meg, and her sister he witness them being abuse. Even as Meg is being torture, David asks his father if it’s ever right to hit a girl in a different scene, and in a location far away from the crime. This scene, along with other moments, contradicts David character when remaining silent on the crime. The “he’s just a kid” excuse becomes irrelevant here as he asks this difficult question to his father. Moving pass the “cooties” viewing of girls his age so David is able to comprehend difficult dilemmas to some extent. These moments, and characteristics go against the notion that David would simply sit around, and do nothing about the crime.
Now the abusers are simple characters. Most of whom consist of young boys who drink beer, and sexually desire women. Illustrating the later trait as they look at porno magazines, talk about specific women body parts, and asking their mother if they could have sex with their cousin Meg. These young boys are cousins of Meg, and the leader who approves this torture is Meg aunt. With these being family members it should paint a darker picture of a dysfunctional family, but it does not. These abusers are not given any form of depth as they simply have no issue torturing Meg. The young boys don’t simply get into it, but rather just accept it without providing much for dig into. Aunt Ruth Chandler does not provide the presence of someone who is in control of their children. Ruth Chandler gives off no aura she mentally controls her kids or has powers over them. She’s not manipulative in any way which makes the psycho mother as cartoony as the other characters. However, the tiny bit that Ruth Chandler position as caretaker could have been better done. In the film, Chandler punishing Meg is simply Chandler thinking as a psycho mother. Believing her punishing Meg would straighten her out, except this is where all assumptions end. Context is not provided as no outside or inner forces in Chandler life is brought to explain her mentality. At most, Chandler simply makes an exaggerated claim that Meg doesn’t think she’s a lady after Meg refuses to get rid off some pest in the backyard. Seeing Chandler offering kids beer is not enough to convince this woman is messed up in the head.
Finally, we have the victims who are Meg, and Susan Loughlin who has polio. As with the bystanders, and abusers there is not much to the victims. The victims of the crime are simply presented as nice people, and they are young. Simply because a child has polio doesn’t automatically grant sympathy. However, Susan Loughlin is the closest to representing a person. Showing actual guilt about the events, uncertain on how to feel on the matter like a young child would. Unfortunately, there is not much to both Meg, and Susan characters. What little is shared about them is simply use in order to sympathize with them easier. When combining the lack of any human trait in this story you have a film that fails to accomplish whatever it wanted. It didn’t want to understand these characters as people so it simplified them. There’s no intention to exploit the crime since it based on an actual incident, but there’s nothing to reflect upon for the audience as no characters has any depth to them. In the end, the writing fails to make a connection on any level on its own. If it wasn’t for the fact it was inspired by a true story this film would leave its viewers impressionless at the events that unfolded.
The Girl Next Door is directed by Gregory Wilson. Balancing tone accordingly so there’s no sudden shift when it goes from the innocence interaction for an inviting atmosphere into abuse when it takes a dark turn. There’s no effort to give the film an artistic look which is for the better considering how it took inspiration from an actual incident, and this film is already walking on a delicate subject as is. However, Gregory Wilson shows too much restraint when it times to show the ugliness of Meg torture. Whenever there’s torture on screen the impact of the scenes fall through showing Wilson weakness in being unable to create a menacing atmosphere of hopelessness or give off sense of cruel nature in these torture scenes when pain is inflicted.
Acting in the film is stale with roles that offer little to build off from. With the roles being characterized in three characteristics the performances are bad. Most of the cast are young children and their inexperience show. However, our main star is Daniel Manche who’s make a good effort in carrying the film mostly on his own shoulders. His character ain’t memorable, but Manche gives his character humanity. Displaying a clear torture in his character in a scene without having to speak sometime. Manche is young, but turns in a good performance. His co star, Blythe Auffarth, doesn’t get a role that demands much. Blythe Auffarth is simply meant to react to the abuse, and appear as a sweet person as much as possible. Her performance will leave plenty to be desire dramatically as she’s unable to make much of the character.
Then there’s Blanche Baker who play Ruth Chandler who has no grounds for a performance. Baker is given a character makes no sense in how she acts. Due to the cartoony writing her portrayal also suffered being unable to provide much for the character to do. Blanche Baker does not come across as motherly or particularly scary when attempting to appear satanic. Finally we have the remainder of the cast that appear in the film are Graham Patrick Martin, Benjamin Ross Kaplan, Dean Faulkenberry, and Madeline Taylor playing young characters. These actor performances also suffer from the same problem being offered little range in their roles. The soundtrack is forgettable. It plays in the background fading from the quickly as it stop playing.
I unfortunately feel the need to address something regarding this film. Okay, according to some sources that have seen The Girl Next Door (2007 Film) make the bold claim that it’s “graphic” and “disturbing”. If you take pride in watching difficult films in not just the sums, but the entirety of a film you’ve been lied too about this film. If you saw this film on any “Most Disturbing Films Ever” list you’ve been lied too. If you read a review from “film enthusiasts” claiming this was disturbing you’ve been lied too. Already having gone over how the cartoonish portrayal that simplified the characters into abusers, victims, or bystander failing to make an impression now I sadly have to discuss the depiction of the torture. Yes, I’ve sadly had to take up my time, but most importantly yours in order to get across the clear difference “graphic” content and graphic content. To further express my displeasure SHAME ON YOU if you have done any of this. Don’t ever make such bold claims unless you have good grounds to support your claims.
The depiction of torture in this film greatly suffers for the weak context, and how scared it is to actually show true torture or dare enter in its cruelty for a brief moment. If you’ve only provide a tame version of an atrocity the sugarcoating of the crime is more damaging. It’ll fail to leave a lasting impression, and will make the crime appear as if it wasn’t all that bad, which is pretty bad. Context is important if you, or whoever wants to make film to understand if you create a character that audience will care about than seeing them suffer will be hard to watch. If you don’t have characters worth caring about like this film specifically you have to resort to going to the dark side, and showing a despicable act of human cruelty in full. There’s a scene in this film that is entirely tasteless not because of the explicitness of what is shown, or the awful context, but because it’s afraid to show it. We’re told through dialogue that Meg (the victim) is about to get her vagina burn with a blowtorch.
Now why would I, or anyone want to see a woman vagina burn with a blowtorch? Exactly if it’s done in way this film did it. The way this scene is shown is not explicit as it does not show contact between the body part, and torture device. Special effects in 1979, manage to make a castration in Cannibal Holocaust look convincing so what’s this 2007 film excuse? Another is context because none of the characters feel real so neither will the crime feel real when the pain is inflicted. The whole film is like this. Acting is another issue as the cast have limited range of emotion to display. Bereft of any human emotion or a point in their portrayal being simplified into bystanders, abusers, and victims. It is not harsh enough in displaying a person getting tortured. Due to the weak writing, and restraint on the tortures scenes the film leaves no emotional impact even though it should given what occurs in the film.
The Girl Next Door fails for several reasons, but the most important one being that despite the film being based around true events the only emotion it evokes is anger. Anger in the way that the writing failed to provide character worth caring about nor makes you contemplate the crime you just witness in any meaningful way. All that’s on screen are martyrs for specific emotions to create not people. It’s a simple exploitation film that instead challenging a difficult notion or trying say something significant it simply uses it source in order to a get a reaction from viewers from it source.