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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Mrs. Chandler must love having her around", 28 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: The Girl Next Door [DVD] (DVD)
It's 1958 and David is fishing for crayfish when he's interrupted by Meg Loughlin, they seem to hit it off and she has a go at catching one herself. He asks about a large scar on her arm, and she tells him that she got it from an accident that killed her parents and permanently injured her younger sister. Before she leaves, she reveals that she is staying with her aunt and cousins, who are David's next door neighbours. Her aunt is Ruth Chandler, a single woman with many children, all boys. She chainsmokes and lets her boys and a few of the local kids drink beer and pretty much do as they like. Everything seems fine at first, and apart from the odd remark from Ruth to Meg, the two girls seem to have settled in rather nicely.

When Meg refuses to burn tent worms from the trees in the garden, Ruth seems to think that Meg is too much of a lady to burn them, and feels personally offended of the insinuation that she isn't a lady. When we next see Meg, she asks David to buy her a burger as she hasn't been allowed to eat for the past two days. Meg tells David that this isn't a one off, and that Ruth and her children hate her. Not long after this, David sees Ruth yelling at Meg's defenseless younger sister, Susan. When David innocently tries to pretend that Meg has done Ruth a water painting, Ruth instantly realises that she did it for David, and practically accuses Meg of being easy.

A day or two later, David walks into the Chandler house to discover Meg laughing as the boys are tickling her. When one of them grabs her breast, she instinctively strikes the boy, scratching his face. Within no time at all, Ruth comes storming upstairs and Meg runs out of the room, so Ruth decides to punish Susan instead. It is from this point that the abuse moves from mental to physical, with Meg being tied up in the basement and subjected to all types of torture from Ruth, her kids and some of the local children. As the film moves along, the abuse escalates.

The acting and directing is very competent, some of the acting is a little average but the main characters all do very good jobs. Blythe Auffarth and Blanche Baker are by far the most convincing as Meg and Ruth, I felt sympathy for Meg and hatred towards Ruth. Daniel Manche was the better performer out of the young boys, as David is the one that had to show several emotions where as the other boys only had to show anger and hatred. There's a few recognisable faces in the film in small roles, William Atherton plays the adult David at the beginning and end of the film. Mark Margolis plays a homeless man who gets hit by a car near the beginning, and Catherine Mary Stewart who I knew from Night Of The Comet and Weekend At Bernie's plays David's mother.

The film is loosely based on the real life murder of 16 year old Sylvia Likens, by Gertrude Baniszewski, her kids and several of the children from a neighbourhood in Indiana, 1965. This film changes many of the facts. Another film called An American Crime came out in the same year starring Ellen Page and Catherine Keener, that film uses the real names and is much more factually accurate, but does that make it a better film? Well, yes it does. It may be because I saw An American Crime twice before watching The Girl Next Door, but I found the acting, directing and overall feel of An American Crime to be more realistic and disturbing. I'd heard beforehand that everything that was hinted at in An American Crime was shown in this film, but to be honest I thought the level of torture and abuse shown was similar, but the elevated acting of Page, Keener, James Franco, Bradley Whitford and others made me feel much more than this film managed to make me feel. It helps that An American Crime sticks to the actual facts of what happened, the addition of the David character made this film a little weak. I know that times were much different in the '50s to what they are now, but I refuse to believe that David wouldn't have told his parents or the police what was going on. He isn't related to Ruth or the kids that are torturing Meg, and he seems to have feelings towards her. Every kid that was involved in An American Crime and real life all participated in the abuse and no matter how bad they began to felt, telling the law would have incriminated themselves or got their mother arrested.

The DVD comes with a short featurette, lasting 5-10 minutes with a few of the people involved giving interviews. There's also a trailer for the film but nothing else, not even subtitles. The picture quality is very good, it has a TV movie look to it and it works well with it being set in the '50s. The Girl Next Door is a very decent film that mixes fact with fiction. It is disturbing to a degree, and I found it uncomfortable to sit through at times. If you like this sort of film, or are familiar with the facts of the Sylvia Likens case, then the film is definitely worth getting.

Some people may think that the makers of films like these are exploiting real life atrocities for their own gain, and in a way they are. But I feel it's also important for stories like this to be told, as before seeing An American Crime I had never heard of Sylvia Likens and what happened to her. I still probably wouldn't have to this day, and the more people that take the time to read about what really happened can only be a good thing.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Mar 2012 17:39:08 BDT
mister joe says:
Absolutely correct.
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