JACK KETCHUM'S
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

projects. Remember back several years ago
eruptions (
DANTE'S PEAK, VOLCANO) or two
about asteroids on a collision course with Earth
(DEEP IMPACT, ARMAGEDDON). Sometimes
television production companies will get into the
act and create knock-offs of stories that are
being dramatized on the big screen. Presumably
this year, audiences can choose between two
feature films that utilize the heinous 1965
torture and murder of teenager
Sylvia Likens as
their inspiration. The Sundance-screened
AMERICAN CRIME takes a factual approach to
the case and features Catherine Keener and
Ellen Page in the lead roles. For a slightly
different approach, there is also
JACK
KETCHUM'S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
, based on
the author's 1989 novel that fictionalized the
events. Not having seen the former, I cannot
compare the two movies. I have, however, seen
the latter and it is well-made, if difficult to
watch.

With a screenplay by Daniel Farrands and Philip
Nutman and directed by Gregory M. Wilson,
JACK KETCHUM'S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
(undoubtedly using the author's name to
distinguish the movie from the 2004 film of the
same name) is a fairly faithful adaptation of the
novel.

Opening in the present day, David Moran
(William Atherton) is walking in the financial
district in lower Manhattan when a man is struck
by an automobile. David snaps into action and
offers CPR and watches as the ambulance takes
the injured man away. This triggers his
memories of a fateful summer when he was a
pubescent boy (nicely embodied by Daniel
Manche) living in suburbia with his distant
parents (Grant Show and Catherine Mary
Stewart). David hangs out next door with the
Chandler family, mostly because mom Ruth
(Blanche Baker) is permissive. She's a chain
smoker who likes her beer -- and is willing to
share it with her sons and their friends. Ruth
also frankly and openly speaks of sex and hints
at the tragic past she shared with her husband.
(She may also have had an affair with David's
father, although that is never clarified).

One fine day, David happens to encounter Meg
(Blythe Auffarth, adequate in the role), newly
arrived in suburbia. She recounts her tragic tale:
her parents were killed in an automobile
accident that left her younger sister (Madeline
Taylor) in leg braces. It turns out they are
related to Ruth Chandler and have come to live
with her. David immediately develops a crush
which Ruth eventually picks up on. Gradually,
Ruth begins to punish the girl and/or her sister
for minor infractions, and the punishments can
range from no food to a spanking. David is
slowly drawn into the fray, and as the abuse
against Meg gets more violent and more sexual,
David struggles to "save" her, although he may
not be a match for her cousins (played by
Graham Patrick Martin, Benjamin Ross Kaplan
and Austin Williams) and his efforts may be in
vain.

The film is quite disturbing and some scenes are
difficult to watch. I'm not in any way squeamish
but the depiction of the insidious torture that
Ruth and her reprobate sons concoct proves
particularly gruesome.

The movie details the sordid doings of a
troubled woman -- Ruth Chandler -- and yet it
doesn't reveal the motivation or reasoning,
which may be its intent. The news media is
filled with stories about murders or assaults
that are committed without any real motive.
There are some suggestions in the many
diatribes Ruth delivers and in Baker's fierce
performance, but someone looking for a clear
answer may be disappointed.


Rating:                B-
MPAA Rating:        R for sadistic torture and
                         sexual abuse, nudity,
                         language and strong
                         sexual dialogue - all
                         involving children
Running time:      93 mins.  



Viewed at the Walter Reade Theatre
L to R: Blythe Auffarth as Meg Loughlin and Daniel
Manche as David Moran in
JACK KETCHUM'S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR

© 2007 MODERNCINÉ