HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET Review

In what feels like amateur hour at the movies House at the End of the Street piles on every cheap scare, cliche about teenagers, and desperate plot twist it can to try and keep its audience engaged while in all actuality it is doing nothing more than scaring off audiences from ever wanting to trust in mainstream Hollywood horror ever again. Everything about the film is just so typical it is hard not to shake your head every single time you know what should happen next actually does. The dialogue is stale and the movie drags on for no point other than what feels like it's biding time before the "shocker" of an ending comes around. We are then forced to re-evaluate everything we've seen in order to feel that it was a legitimate twist. I really wanted to enjoy the film, I wouldn't have wasted time going to see it if I didn't believe it had potential and even despite the measly 11% tomatometer rating that showed up after its release because it wasn't screened for critics. Everything was going against the film, leaving no reason to believe it could rise above what low expectations were being created for it. I try to be fair when it comes to feature films, giving the benefit of the doubt, considering all the work that several people had to put into this to make it work but here I feel like there is no choice but to look past that. The whole production feels lackluster and thrown together not benefiting any of these actors especially the blooming star at the center of it. Following up one of the biggest films of the year and using this as a precursor for what will likely be an Oscar-nominated role in The Silver Linings Playbook Jennifer Lawrence should have passed on this script and let some other hopeful take a shot at carving out a chance of a career; but no matter who is in the lead role this horror schlock is nothing if not easily forgettable.

Newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) moves into a new
town with hopes of starting over fresh.
In what doesn't stray too far from the beaten path when it comes to scary movie patterns House at the End of Street opens with the grisly murders of two parents of a sweet looking little girl named Carrie Ann. Flash forward four years and newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) is moving her and her teenage daughter Elissa (Lawrence) to the small rural town where the murders took place. Lucky for them, they can afford the rent at the upscale house due to it being what looks like less than a few hundred feet from the sight of the murders. It is made evident but never explains that Elissa and her mother have a strained relationship, that her mom wasn't there for her much and made me wonder why, if the girl is 17, she didn't just stay with her dad? It seems like there was more to that story, something going on there that was possibly going to forshadow the events of what the movie actually entailed but no, instead this is just used as a way that the story being told strengthens the bond between mother and daughter. Even still, the final shot dismisses even this simple storyline. Where the meat of the story lies though is in the sole survivor of the family that lives next door. Ryan, who was living with his aunt at the time his parents were murdered is the older brother to Carrie Ann has returned to his boyhood home to fix it up and put it on the market (good luck, right?). So sad, sorrowful, but sweet seeming Ryan gets a new neighbor in the younger, cool, indie chick that is Elissa and we know where this is going right? There are moments in the movie where you really think this is going to end up being more a love story than a horror one and for the most part, it felt like it was. The horror bits pop up every now and then in the classic form of build up and jump but they, like the rest of the film, feel like a second thought to the fact they actually got Jennifer Lawrence to star in this thing.

Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence)becomes close with the town
outcast Ryan (Max Thierot).
What I don't understand about the film though is why it maybe didn't necessarily decide to be so standard, but why exactly it went the route it did of being shot and edited to such a perfect playbook of every other horror film that has ever been made. In all honesty once the story comes full circle in the end I could see plenty of opportunities where this could have been made on a smaller scale with a more intimate look at the psyche of the main antagonist. There are moments in the film where a crane shot is so obviously used for the sole fact they were able to get a crane that day. These more cinematic shots stick out like a sore thumb because the tone of the film has such a smaller feel to it. Co-writer Jonathan Mostow has dealt with big budget productions and has even directed a few (Surrogates, Terminator 3, U-571) but you think this would lead him to give director Mark Tonderai, who really has no other major feature credits to his name, a little help is communicating his story to the big screen. It might not have helped that screenwriter David Loucka took hold of the duties from Mostow's story though as he is credited with last years horrible Dream House. It almost doesn't make sense that the film turned out as bad as it did. There is clearly a credible force behind the story and a solid if not tested hand in the directors chair, but the actors here are all more than capable of handling the material. I couldn't help thinking as I watched the film that Lawrence and Tonderai must have been good friends and she was doing him a favor by lending her name to the movie. I could literally think of no other reason she might have agreed to do this. After breaking out in Winter's Bone and following that up with a mixture of credible big budget flicks (X-Men: First Class, The Hunger Games) and smaller indie dramas (The Beaver, Like Crazy) it was clear the actress had a clear mind of what material she liked and wanted to do leaving us to question what separated this from the no doubt mile high stack of offers on her desk.

Elissa discovers some frightening things
about her new home.
This will pass not causing much of a stir for Lawrence though it will not likely help bump the names of the rest of the cast starring alongside her or the man in the director's chair either. Lawrence's name garnered this a stronger debut at the box office than it would have otherwise as she likely attracted the teen audience that wanted to see Katniss do something else. There is no coincidence in the fact that five months after one of the biggest films this year there comes along this small, horror film perfectly capable of handling (and likely shocking) the 15 year-olds that will flock to the theaters with groups of friends to see this. And in all honesty there is nothing wrong with a film serving this purpose, but as a lover of cinema you kind of hope that studios would push out horror films that are going to gear younger generations towards what makes scary movies good scary movies. This is neither here nor there as House at the End of the Street is what it is and there is no turning back now. Props should be given to the actors who try their best to convey a natural sense of communication with each other while strictly weird things are abounding around them and also credit Mostow with not allowing his story to go all super natural or resorting to the possession gimmick that would have landed the film an even poorer score. The film has a few things going for it here and there but the final product can't make up for the overall feeling of carelessness and lack of craft. It is a poorly made film, but one that we could have seen going several different directions had the right care been taken to fulfill its potential. I would have liked to see something in the vein of a southern gothic tale a la Martha Marcy May Marlene dealing with the mind of a tormented child and the way they see the world. It would be an interesting, maybe torturous film to endure, but it would likely be a horror film in the truest sense of the genre. Maybe next time Lawrence decides to join the fright fest she'll put more care into how the story will be told and not just the story it is telling.