Thursday 27 August 2009

The Girl Next Door

From the book of the same name, the movie tells the story of Meg, who after surviving a car crash that killed her parents, moves into her aunt's house. Over the course of the summer, Aunt Ruth becomes more and more abusive towards Meg and her younger sister Susan. At first Ruth involves only her three sons, but soon all the neighbourhood kids are participating in the abuse.

The story is told from David's point of view. David lives next door to Meg and he is her only friend. Though Meg confides in David early on, telling him how Ruth denies her meals, David has a hard time believing that Ruth is anything but kind; he and the other kids really like her. David tries to smooth things over between Ruth and Meg, but it doesn't go very well. Not long after this episode, Meg is taken to the basement where she's confined for the rest of the summer. David himself doesn't participate in the abuse, but neither does he attempt to stop it. Not until things get really out of hand. But his plan to rescue Meg fails and he finds himself tied up on the basement floor, bearing witness to Ruth's mania.

When Meg first arrives at Ruth's, her aunt is just like any other mom on the block, if perhaps a bit too lenient with her sons. But as Meg's abuse grows in severity, Ruth's mental state deteriorates. Her speeches to her sons are increasingly disturbing and her rationalizations for her actions are ever more illogical. So the movie is as much about Ruth's descent into madness as it is about Meg's suffering at the hands of her deranged aunt.

In spite of its severe content, I found The Girl Next Door to be rather understated and low key. Given the nature of the events that take place, I think it's probably for the best. However, I can't help but wonder, given the extremely violent and graphic films being produced overseas and the highly stylized mainstream horror churned out by Hollywood, would this film had suffered any were it a bit more flashy?

I honestly don't know. But the story is compelling in itself, so I'm not sure what I'm complaining about. I think maybe it's the lack of a sense of escalation. One moment Ruth is paddling Susan, and the next day Meg is tied up naked in the basement. Though the film is told from David's point of view and he is not privy to everything that goes on at Ruth's house, I can't think of any good reason to not show or allude to the escalating nature of Ruth's abuse of Meg.

That being said, the abuse that is present in the film is truly depraved and runs the gamut from humiliation to mutilation. The more extreme acts are not shown, and I'm glad for it. Despite the film's story and pacing issues, the movie effectively evokes horror and sympathy for the victim. Flashier films often fail in this regard.

So I guess I take back what I said about the film needing more polish.

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