Title:The Girl Nest Door  USA [97m]Color Genre:Horror,Crime,Drama Director by:Gregory Wilson Written by:Novel [Jack Ketchum] Screenplay : Daniel Farrands, Philip Nutman Starring: Daniel Manche, Blanche Baker, Blythe Auffarth, Madeline Taylor Music:Ryan Shore Cinematography:William M. Miller
I don't know what disturbing undercurrent in modern society is responsible for the advent of “torture porn” movies like the Saw franchise, and the string of Hostel-type films that have come in recent years, any more than I fully understand the popularity of “dead teenager” films from my own youth. Perhaps it reflects a nihilism, a rootless sense of the uberself that has disconnected from the universal suffering of humanity. Perhaps it is something darker, a vicious lack of soul in an age where any perceived slight results in gunfire and suicide attacks are almost accepted as a reasonable form of social and political discourse.
Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door exists, then, as an anomaly. It is brutal, unblinking, terrible. You will see the word “harrowing” properly used in almost every review of the film. But the suffering is not served up for entertainment, or to satisfy any baser bloodlust currently being fed by any number of films. What happens to the teenaged Meg in the basement of her disturbed aunt's idyllic suburban home, at the hands of her own peers, will hurt you. It will horrify even the most jaded horror fan, and it will leave scars. You will want to turn away, but will not be able, not from ghoulish fascination with the machinations of evil but with an overwhelming empathy for one girl's suffering.
“What happens to the teenaged Meg in the basement of her disturbed aunt's idyllic suburban home, at the hands of her own peers, will hurt you.”
The story, drawn from Ketchum's novelized treatment of the real tragedy of Sylvia Likens, concerns orphaned sisters Meg and Susan (Blythe Auffarth and Madeline Taylor, both transcendent in their performances) sent to live with their embittered, ultimately psychotic Aunt Ruth. Ruth, well played by Blanche Baker, is a monster in human form, emanating the same calm evil Ralph Fiennes gave to Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. Ruth focuses on the attractive, teenaged Meg; at first with harsh discipline, but soon degenerating into outright torture. Her accomplices are her own willing sons, and other neighborhood kids to whom Ruth gives license for their own darkest thoughts. Only young David Moran (Daniel Manche, exceptional in his own right), Ruth's next door neighbor who has befriended Meg before her ordeal began in earnest, stands as the sole conscience in the midst of madness.
Much has been made of the suburban setting, showing the seeming underside of 1950's America, but this story could have happened anywhere at anytime. And, unfortunately, it still does. The manifestation of this level of inhumanity is a combination of ingredients that are never rare or far from the surface of any place or age. It is a defect of humanity, an aberration allowed to fester by the complicity of the willing. It is only David, who refuses to give himself to the dark urgings of his own peers but is powerless to stop it, and the tragic Meg who endures beyond all imagination, who remain wholly human in the end.
This is a difficult film, as you may have already surmised. There is no happy ending, no redemption. It may haunt and harm you, but you will never feel more completely alive than when you suffer with both David and Meg. In that suffering, that powerlessness and pain, you may find the connection with “the better angels of our nature” that keep this sort of thing from happening more often. In this modern world you may find your own humanity, numbed by a constant bombardment of destruction and violence, still intact.