The Girl Next Door Gregory M. Wilson

The Girl Next Door Gregory M. Wilson
Since its 1989 release, Jack Ketchum’s novel The Girl Next Door has been commended and condemned for the author’s graphic and fictitious depiction of Sylvia Marie Likens, a young girl who was brutalised by her foster parent, Gertrude Baniszewski. Many said it was a film that couldn’t be made, which makes Gregory Wilson’s adaptation all the more noteworthy. Set in a peaceful New Jersey suburb during the ’50s, the story is told through the regretful eyes of David, an adolescent who witnesses the humiliation and torture of his neighbour Meg and her younger disabled sister Susan at the hands of their Aunt Ruth and her three sons. Ruth’s warped sense of morals and discipline is frightening; she banishes Meg to the basement, where she invites the neighbourhood children to help tie-up, gag, rape, burn and brand her. It may sound like the next chapter of torture porn but Wilson is careful not to use gratuitous violence, turning the camera away from the cringe-worthy moments. However, he never preaches or treats this like a lesson. As co-writer, Philip Nutman mentions repeatedly in the extras that this film took nine years to make, and it’s not surprising. This is touchy subject matter that most studios want to avoid like the plague, so the people involved deserve some credit for bringing it to the screen, but with all of the back-patting going on, it’s important to point out that the acting and poorly utilised low budget give this a b-movie grade at best. It doesn’t help that nauseating producer Andrew Van Den Houten constantly boasts about the film’s importance in the featurettes and commentary. However, even worse is the second commentary featuring writers Daniel Farrands, Nutman and Ketchum, who feel that the best way to sell a film is by pointing out its flaws and laugh out loud at those who said the film would never be made, singling out producer Don Murphy (Transformers, Natural Born Killers), who originally rejected the script. Here’s hoping this year’s Ellen Page-starring An American Crime does a better job of telling Likens’ tale. (Anchor Bay)