>> Fantastic Fest 3: The Girl Next Door (Brandon’s Review, 9/10)

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Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door posterI’ve read a couple of Jack Ketchum’s novels Off Season and its sequel Off Spring, wherein civilized people find themselves forced to embrace their own inner animal as they battle a section of humanity at it’s most animalistic and savage, the thing about the filmed adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel The Girl Next Door and I didn’t know this going in, is it that it is about that savage and animalistic sect, but there is no third act triumph. It’s savage and bleak, and it will slaughter whatever innocence you have left in you. (NOTE: The case this film and book are based on, that of Sylvia Likens, had no third act reprieve either so I guess there you have it.)

The film starts out with a man (William Atherton) rendering aid to a pedestrian struck by a car. The man then invites us for a stroll down memory lane where the word pain and its limits were seared into his very being one summer as a youngster. David Moran lives in one of those sunny little hamlets where everyone knows everyone, kids cut up and cuss and one mother, Ruth Chandler, is cooler than all the rest offering up advice and beer. The neighborhood changes when Meg and Susan Loughlin, who have recently been orphaned in a car crash and sent to live with their aunt and cousins, come into town.

Meg and David hit it off immediately; they have conversations during which they both light up and fter a ferris wheel ride a kiss may even linger, but avid is the consummate gentleman so in lieu of a kiss avid is given a painting. In a simple act of bridge building, David gives Ruth the painting Meg did for im as a gift to her but she knows that because of that the picture is it can’t be for. This moment leads unreasonably to accusations that if a girl will give a oy she barely knows a watercolor where else does the brush stroke?

From that point on, the terrors of The Girl Next Door grow exponentially. What keeps the film from falling into the torture porn mold (and this is just for starters) is that the subject matter, despite how spot-on and nasty it is, gives the viewer just enough wiggle room to imagine something that takes that shiver to the next level. Basking in the gory and the glory is not on the agenda here. Another key to the film’s success is performances all of which are not perfect but are carried by four performers in particular, Daniel Manche as the young David Moran, who has a palpable chemistry with Blythe Auffarth, (who is so sweet and innocent and, in spite of everything, optimistic) who internalizes almost all of his anger and fear as he grasps for straws of understanding. Bill Atherton as the adult David, who in two scenes plus voiceover is the perfect manifestation of guilt and regret. Most crucial to the balancing act is Blanche Baker, who steadily escalates from a simmer to a boil. Like a lot of great crazies, she is capable of convincing you that what you witnessed was merely an episode, a fluke, and the next minute everything is right as rain. She’s the kind of person that makes you want to cuddle up with Joan Crawford.

I like to think that I’m made of stern stuff, I’m not the squeamish type, but, desensitized or not, there are movies that come along once in a blue moon to remind us that when we looked into the abyss we turned away before it started to test us.

9 on a 1 to 10 scale

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