The Girl Next Door (2007) and An American Crime (2007) both tell the horrifying true story of Sylvia Likens, a girl tortured to death by Gertrude Baniszewski, her children, and kids from the neighborhood in Indiana, 1965.
In The Girl Next Door, Slyvia Likens is played by Blythe Auffarth, an up and coming new actress. In the film Slyvlia’s name is changed to Meg Loughlin. Meg and her sister, Susan Loughlin (Jenny Likens in reality) are left in the care of an aunt, Ruth (Gertrude Baniszewski in reality) and her three sons after their parents are killed in a car accident. The movie moves very quickly in revealing that something isn’t right in the household. Meg begs a neighborhood friend; David for food. She tells him that Ruth doesn’t let her eat and Meg has mysterious bruises on her body.
The situation quickly escalates; Meg is soon locked in the basement and tortured relentlessly by Ruth, her sons, and other kids from the neighborhood. She is starved, beaten, burned, branded, and raped. All the while Ruth is encouraging this behavior of the children. She even forces Meg’s sister Susan to harm Meg.
The Girl Next Door is dark and depressing. The music suits the mood. It moves quickly and is very explicit and heart wrenching. I suggest that viewers watch with caution. We actually see the children and Ruth torture Meg, we see her being beaten and burned, and we see her bruises. Meg (Auffarth) is in awful shape; she looks run down and on the brink of death. She actually looks like someone that has been tortured for months.
The acting for this type of intense, serious film was impressive. The actors all really got into the role and portrayed this film with the seriousness of the situation. I was especially impressed because a majority of the actors were children.
It is a very difficult film to watch but I recommend it because it is based on a true story. I think it’s a story that needs to be told.
Ellen page plays Sylvia Likens in An American Crime. Gertrude Baniszewski is played by Catherine Keener. Sylvia’s parents work for the circus and travel often this is why her parents were desperate to leave Sylvia and her sister with the mother of children that Sylvia and Jenny met at church. It is arranged that they would stay there as long Gertrude was paid 20 dollars a week.
The movie starts off very slowly. Nothing odd occurs until about an hour into the film. It takes much time to build the awkwardness and uncomfortable mood of living in the Baniszewski household. The slow pace is accompanied by upbeat fun music for the 60’s. This is not at all appropriate for the mood or tone of the film.
Everything is perfectly normal until Gertrude’s check doesn’t arrive on time. She takes out her anger and frustration on Sylvia and Jenny. She takes them to the basement and begins to beat them. After this the beatings continue often and for any sort of reason. Ruth has convinced herself that Sylvia is a whore and strongly disapproves. She says that Sylvia must be punished until she learns her lesson. She locks her in the basement and allows children from the neighborhood to come over whenever they want and do whatever they want to Sylvia.
This film is not nearly as violent or explicit. We know that Sylvia is being tortured but we do not often witness this. It is often implied by the camera work, music, and screams of Sylvia.
The Girl Next Door vs. An American Crime
Overall I liked The Girl Next Door much more. The acting was much better and the mood and music were much more appropriate for the type of intense film that it is. Because all of the events were visible and quite evident it was more emotional and easier to feel for Sylvia on a much deeper level.
Each film contained some facts about the Likens case but overall, An American Crime was most like the actual story. I appreciated that it contained many facts from the actual case. In the beginning of the film it states that most of the film comes directly from the transcript of the court.