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The Girl Next Door @ Fantasia

Posted by Kim / July 24, 2007

20072407_girlnextdoor.jpgIn order to feel like I’ve taken the most advantage possible of summer, I always try to check out each of Montreal's festival’s offerings. Sadly, I haven’t done so well, but I did make sure to go to at least one of the film screenings at the Fantasia Film Festival. This is perhaps my favourite festival the city offers because it gives you the chance to see often excellent films that likely won’t see the light of day again, and the opportunity to hear the writers, directors and/or actors in the films discuss their work immediately after the viewing. My pick this year, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, was chosen mostly based on it matching my schedule, but oh my, what a film!

Adapted from Jack Ketchum’s novel by the same name, which in turn is based on the real-life horror story of Sylvia Likens, this film is a battering ram of torture, violence and sadism. I am an experienced and hardened horror fan. Give me zombies! Give me dismemberment! Give me machine-legged women! But never, ever give me this movie to watch. Ever.

The trailer led me to believe I would be watching something Flowers in the Attic-esque, a story about a girl trapped by an abusive stepmother who verbally assaults her and sometimes maybe even hits her a few times. But this was no Flowers in the Attic, and this was no abusive stepmother. The story is told as a recollection from David’s point of view, a neighbourhood boy who falls in love with a Meg, a teenage girl spending the summer in the 50’s at her aunt’s house after her parents are killed in an automobile accident. The film picks up its pace extremely quickly, and in no time, the audience is thrown into the worst possible hell on earth any human being could ever go through. Imagine torture. Multiply that by one million. You still aren’t close to what happens in this film. The aunt and the boys of the neighbourhood all have their turns with Meg until the climax, which truly is unspeakable.

I struggled to stay in the theatre until the end. Many people didn’t win this battle, leaving the film before the going got really, really rough. When I did leave, my hands were shaking and my mind was racing, feeling in shock. I’ve been wondering about the point of creating a film like this; no one leaves feeling as though they have been taught any ultimate lesson, except perhaps the cruelty of the human monster. I’m left thinking perhaps the point is to create a film so effective in its violence that the audience is shaking with it? On that basis, The Girl Next Door deserves any stars it gets. Incredible casting, relentless momentum and a flawless set make this a film to be admired. The only place where it goes awry is in its dénouement, simply because after such a beating, you want to feel avenged, and the film feels cut short.

I am not recommending this film, if the opportunity to view it ever arrives. It is far too brutal and unforgiving to safely say to anyone, hey, watch this movie. But I have to give it credit for the amount of compassion, empathy and ultimately, panic, it gives out. In a cinematic world of zombies and nuclear wastelands, this film, while sometimes pointlessly violent, plays its cards right.

Photo courtesy and MODERNCINÉ


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