Saturday, January 19, 2008

the girl next d'oh my god, that's horrible...

...not horrible bad movie, though, but horrible hard to watch. Disturbing. What the fuck are you talking about, Harris? Well, how's about a roundabout explanation first? One of the best things about doing a post a day for Halloween in October is that it got me to watch a couple of newer horror films I might not have gazed otherwise, or might have waited on longer to see, but which turned out to be pretty good, especially "Fido" and "Severance." It was encouraging, since for the most part, new horror films are pretty bad, pretty fucking bad. They're either dumb-as-dirt torture porn, or inferior remakes of films from the 70s or 80s (or Korea or Japan), or else...well, that's pretty much it. There's a few half-decent things out there. I didn't mind "Turistas," and the "Final Destination" films have been alright, but far from earth shattering. Which is to say that when something kinda good comes along, it's a welcome surprise and kind of a treat, though "treat" isn't really the word I'd use to describe tonight's creature feature, "The Girl Next Door" (2007), directed by Gregory Wilson.

I'm not really up on my horror fiction, but I guess Jack Ketchum is one of the bigger names in the genre. Not Stephen King big, but big enough, I guess, to have some films based on his books. I actually saw Ketchum speak at a screening of an earlier film based on one of his novels, "The Lost" (2005). That film was pretty so-so, despite being produced by "May" (so far probably this decade's best horror film) Lucky McKee, and Ketchum himself failed to impress. Mostly I was put off by the fact that he was wearing a t-shirt with his own picture on it. What up with that? Well, anyway, I came to "The Girl Next Door," also based on a novel by Ketchum, without a ton of enthusiasm, which in the end probably actually added to my cinematic experience, since in the end I wound up with much more than I expected.

Not only is "The Girl Next Door" a pretty decent film, but it's an extremely disturbing one. Many of the scenes and the idea in general veer into the area of torture porn, but "Girl Next Door" has a number of things going for it that all of the various subscarious "Hostels" and "Saws" don't. For one thing, it centers on characters who are something other than a bunch of witless, horny 20-somethings, and it puts a real and identifiable face on it's source of evil, which I guess is a way of saying that the film has a sense of humanity. The audience certainly feels for the victim here, as well as the characters who have to stand by and watch the bad shit go down, and while the tormentors are far from sympathetic, they are identifiably human- flawed, sick, cruel, but definitely human.

The film opens up in the present with very underrated actor William Atherton ruminating on the nature of pain and leading us into the story proper, which takes place in his 1950s suburban childhood. David (the younger version of Atherton's character, played as a child by Daniel Manche, who's quite good), lives next door to his best friends, a houseful of brothers living with their single mom, something of the neighborhood Queen Bee, Ruth (Blanche Baker). The kids, including some other boys from the neighborhood, consider Ruth one of the gang. She hangs out with them and talks trash, gives them beers and generally acts like a pal.

Things start to change when two of Ruth's female cousins, Meg and Susan, have to move in with her and the boys after the girls' parents are killed in an auto accident. David immediately takes a shine to Meg (very well played by Blyhte Auffarth), but it soon becomes apparent that she and Ruth aren't getting along well. Things seem to be getting pretty bad, even abusive, but not beyond the realm of your sort of average, everyday general child abuse. Though I was aware that this was a horror film, I had yet to really know what the source of horror was coming from, despite the growing sense of dread coming from the uncomfortable relationship between Meg and Ruth.

And then, pretty suddenly, "The Girl Next Door" goes out of control. It slaps you across the face with numerous scenes of brutality that are disturbing on many levels. First off, they're unexpected, since the film has only vaguely hinted at Ruth's capability for cruelty. Secondly, the scenes involve children, both as the victims and the tormentors. In this respect, the film challenges a number of notions regarding the innocence of children and the sanctity of motherhood. I don't want to give too much away, just see the film, but be warned, these scenes, which make up about half the film, are extremely violent and disturbing and even include a child-on-child rape that casts a depressing shadow over the rest of the movie.

The ending, surprisingly, is a bit of a let down, but in some respects it's also very effective. There's not much a big finale, but really the damage is already done and can't be undone, there's no way out, no easy resolution, perhaps no resolution at all. It's apparent in the wraparound segment with Atherton that the events that transpired in his childhood have determined the course of the rest of his life, and though he's managed, it seems, to eek out a relatively normal existence, any kind of real happiness and peace are pretty much impossible. And he's one of the good guys.

So, yeah, "The Girl Next Door" is definitely a serious slice of negative pleasure. The first part of the movie lulls you into a sense of comfort with childhood innocence and suburban idyll (accentuated all the more by the fact it takes place in the 1950's, an era commonly associated with a simpler and more innocent time), only to suddenly, shockingly pull out the rug from under you. You're enjoying the film, watching the kids be kids, wondering what's going to happen between David and Meg, and then, bam, things just get all fucked up. And like few other effectively disturbing films I've seen ("Fat Girl" comes to mind), the shock stays with you, the sense of dread and despair manifest physically in the viewer. This is an uncomfortable film to watch, and one that sticks with you, but that's the power of film, good cinema. A good movie can really mess with your shit, and "The Girl Next Door" mess you up plenty.

So check it out, says me, give it a chance to get under your skin and it will. But, fuck, I dunno, maybe have something silly on hand to peep afterwards for a decompressor. For that, I'd gotta recommend "The Brothers Solomon," the newest film by Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk, who also directed the very funny "Let's Go to Prison." For some reason Odenkirk's directorial efforts have gone mostly under the radar, but they're pretty fucking funny, and Odenkirk has a very unique comedic vision.

So, yeah, kind of a grim outing this time around, "Brothers Solomon" nonwithstanding (I just realized I mentioned that one in my last post, too, but fuck it, it's a funny flick), but film is an art and art isn't always about escapism. Check back here often for more freaky flicks and, seriously I swear I promise, some more good comics related stuff coming soon.

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