October 30, 2011

Horror-A-Day: The Girl Next Door (2007)

Every once in a while I come across a movie whose effect is akin to getting hit in the solar plexus. It takes the air right out of you and pins you breathless to your seat. The sort of movie that captivates your attention and repulses you at the same time. The kind of movie that subtly sneaks up on you before throwing you to the wolves. This horror season has delivered just that sort of movie. It is not as blatant as something like Cannibal Holocaust or A Serbian Film, not even like Irreversible. It is the sort of tale that you never see coming.

I am not trying to say those other films are not shocking, disturbing, or disgusting. What I am trying to get at is that there are movies that you go in with certain expectations and others where you have no expectations at all. With The Girl Next Door I went in pretty much not expecting anything. I had heard a few people mention how disturbing it was, but I cannot say I ever took them to heart. I am pretty sure I only bought it because it was part of a cheap horror sale during which I picked up a few smaller titles I was unfamiliar with.

The movie opens with David (William Atherton) coming out of an office building and witnessing a man getting hit by a car. He turns and attempts to help the poor man. During this, he speaks in voice over talking of pain and an incident that happened to his second wife and how they know nothing of real pain. We are then taken back to when David was but a lad (Daniel Manche) in the summer of 1958. It was a summer where everything changed for him, things that happened that forever changed him and shaped his life.

We are introduced to an idyllic time. Not unlike a Leave it to Beaver type scenario. David lives the happy life of a kid along with the rest of the neighborhood children. One day his by the creek catching crayfish and he meets Meg (Blythe Auffarth). She is a cousin to the boys next door. She and her polo-stricken sister have moved in with their Aunt Ruth (Blanche Baker) after a tragic car accident claimed their parents.

David quickly becomes smitten with the girl next door. However, it is not long before things take a malicious turn. The kids play games, the rough house, and occasionally things go bad, but they are kids, things happen. The problem here is with Ruth. She has rather odd ideas about the roles of men and women and has pretty much made up her mind about where Meg should be. She also allows the kids to smoke and gives them beer.

Doesn't seem too bad yet, does it? Well, the boys, aside from David who quickly becomes an unwilling observer, decide to start a new game. It is a game that starts off cruel and gets bad really, really fast. Everything is egged on by Ruth whose obvious disdain for the new arrivals to her care is hard to fathom. I do not want to go into detail, but everything spirals out of control so fast that David is at a loss as to know what to do.

David is an innocent, an bystander victim to the tortures that Meg is being put through. The boy is scared, he doesn't know where to turn or who he can talk to. He is scared of Ruth, and is not believed by others. Meanwhile, Meg s forced to endure the unspeakable. The other boys go from being kids to diabolical monsters in ten seconds flat.

I guess the speed in which things deteriorate is a bit unbelievable, but there is only so much time available in the movie, so I am willing to forgive that. It still felt somewhat natural with the amazing amount of influence that Ruth had on the boys and their actions. What my be even more horrifying is that her disgust for Meg and her sister is never explored or explained. It may sound like  writing issue, but that unknown quantity makes it all he more disturbing and effective.

The performances all quite good. Blanche Baker is downright evil, her gaze and nonchalant attitude is bone chilling. Daniel Manche is solid as the scared little boy who just wants to help Meg and make this stuff stop. Blythe Auffarth is put through the ringer yet retains her personal dignity and sells every moment of te horror. Finally, William Atherton, as the older David, brings the story full circle with an amazing emotonal few moments of screen time to drive the long term effect home.

This is a movie that will take your unsuspecting mind and rattle it. I was left shaken and with a desire to watch something happy to settle the nerves. It is not a perfect film, but it is one whose effect is undeniable. he effect is only heightened knowing that this is based on a true event. The cruelty that some people can possess and express can be truly horrifying, moreso than any horror movie could ever show.

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