Stephen King once described author Jack Ketchum as the scariest man in America. Considering the events his 1989 novel The Girl Next Door upon, I could understand why he made that statement. The 2007 film of the same name, is one of the most disturbing horror films I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s a journey into human sadism, and the depths of a suburban hell. What makes this tale all the more shocking, is that the events of the film are based on fact.
The story, adapted from Ketchum’s novel, is based on the torture and subsequent murder of Sylvia Likens. Confined to the basement of Gertrude Baniszewski, she was viscously tortured by Baniszekski and her family in October, 1965. The real torture that was forced upon her, is more horrifying than anything in the film itself. Adapting stories such as this, are among the biggest challenges for any filmmaker. The dead cannot speak, you have to tell their story. I feel films like this are very important, reminding us that evil is everywhere in this world. Sometimes it’s right down the street.
The Girl Next Door does a very good job setting up characters you can both empathize with and utterly despise. The story successfully confines the terror to a confined space, as well as a domestic setting. The Gates of Hell take the form of a white picket fence. It also successfully establishes a theme of psychological manipulation. With the mother getting her children to aid her in the torture, she begins to mold their minds into complete savagery.
The torture sequences themselves are handled well. How do you depict violent acts of torture, without giving the appearance of a snuff film? The answer is simple, imply what’s being done without showing the full details. A lot of scenes rely on the look of anguish on the face of the victim, while the act is being committed. In your mind you know what’s happening, not showing it in graphic detail makes for a harder hitting effect.
Certain films give us a glimpse into the dark side of human nature. They give us a chance to be the voyeur in a world we sometimes would like to pretend isn’t real. The Girl Next Door is a visceral journey, one I won’t be forgetting about anytime soon.