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I’ll start off by saying that this is a highly unpleasant film and I don’t think I could ever watch it again. That being said, I have to give the filmmaker’s credit for making a very effective film that is all the more horrifying since it is partially based on the real life torture and murder of Sylvia Likens in 1965, by not only the woman whose care she was in, but by the woman’s children and some of the neighboring children as well. The source material for the film is Jack Ketchum’s fictional novel of the same name which is loosely based on the Likens murder and tells the story of two girls Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and Susan (Madeline Taylor) who are sent to live with their Aunt Ruth (a sinister Blanche Baker) and her three sons after the death of their parents. Ruth already shows signs of being unhinged as she treats the neighborhood kids to alcohol and cigarettes, but really takes a dislike to the very pretty and mature Meg, especially when she takes away the attention of the boys from Ruth. Soon Meg is targeted for severe punishments that escalate into imprisonment, torture, rape and mutilation by Ruth, along with her sons and their friends. Hidden away and with no one to come looking for her, Meg is helpless to their increasingly violent and depraved acts while a fearful and equally helpless Susan can do nothing to save her and the neighbors don’t want to know anything beyond their own idyllic four walls.

As directed by Gregory M. Wilson, this is one hell of a rough movie to sit through. Wilson wisely implies the worst of the torturous acts, but there is enough of it for you to get the idea of what kind of nightmare this poor young girl is going through and when his camera turns away from the rougher events, you know enough of what is going on to be properly mortified as your imagination does all the work. And what’s even more horrifying than the acts committed, is that they are being committed willingly and almost enthusiastically by so many and by those so young. Not only did this poor girl do nothing to instigate this, but as you’re watching, you can’t help think that to a degree, this actually happened. Obviously, Ketchum jacked up the viciousness and cruelty to make his novel more of a horror story and changed names and certain details, but it is still based on fact.

The cast also help make this very effective, with Baker being a completely detestable and horrible person, simply a monster in suburban housewife clothing. Auffarth makes a sweet and undeserving victim, who we really like and thus feel terrible for, as we watch helplessly from our seats as she becomes the object of the worst in human nature and by those who themselves are far too young to be even thinking of such vile acts, much less engaging in them. Auffarth’s portrayal of Meg’s gradual giving up and submitting to what’s being done to her is enough to crack even the hardest of hearts.

This is not a film I can recommend per say as much as just acknowledging the filmmakers’ accomplishment at the telling of a truly horrible fact based series of events. This was probably not an easy book to adapt, but the script by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman along with Wilson’s direction, are both unflinching and yet restrained. They get the story told without crossing the line into exploitation, as it easily could have done.

So credit where credit is due, you horrified a guy who has been watching all kinds of horror movies for over four decades and seen some truly gut-wrenching things committed to film. It was an effective and well made movie that I never want to watch again. Also stars Grant Show and Catherine Mary Stewart as the oblivious parents of David (Daniel Manche), one of the few kids who shows a bit of moral backbone and William Atherton as the adult David whose painful remembrance narrates the tragic tale. A horrifying film, but one that avoids being exploitive about its easily exploitable subject matter.

3 stars. I just feel my usual rating style would be a bit crass considering the truth based subject matter.

girl next door rating