Film Review – House at the End of the Street
Acting in a horror movie is like a rite of passage for most actors and actresses. Sure, you can be talented and have a wide range of ability, but sooner or later the draw of the horror genre can’t be denied. Take Jennifer Lawrence, for example. Here is one of the bright young names working right now, who has already won an Oscar nomination and made major contributions to two big movie franchises. It’s safe to say that her spot in the movie business is on the rise. So when we see her in director Mark Tonderai’s House at the End of the Street (2012), we wonder what compelled her to take the role. Was the pitch incredibly convincing? Did she owe someone a favor, or is she a close friend of someone in the production? Or maybe—like with many others—it was just her time?
I ask these questions because Lawrence should be in a better film. Her abilities are wasted in one of the dullest, most predictable, and least interesting horror movies of the year. It never sinks to mediocrity, but never rises up to be memorable. One of the most disappointing things a film can do is settle to being plain, and that’s exactly what happens here. Everything—from the dialogue to the direction, and even the acting—feels phoned in. It’s a missed opportunity, because I sensed this was an effective piece in written form. The turns and story beats felt appropriate; I understood where it was going and why certain decisions were made, but it never had the driving force to make a lasting impact. Let me put it this way: when the most memorable element of a horror movie is the main actress’s tank top, something went astray.
Lawrence plays Elissa, a high school student who has moved into a small rural town with her mother, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue, another actress who deserves better). For the most part, Elissa and Sarah have a good relationship, except for the fact that Sarah was not around for most of Elissa’s childhood, and is still trying to figure out what it means to be a “mom.” Their house is located in front of a thick patch of trees, but that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is the house that is located beyond the forest. Four years earlier, a grisly scene took place when a young girl named Carrie Anne (Eva Link) brutally murdered her parents and escaped into the woods. Legend around town says that Carrie Anne still lives somewhere deep in the forest. Enter Ryan (Max Thieriot), Carrie Anne’s brother and the only surviving member of the family, who lives alone in the same house and draws suspicious glances from the townsfolk.
I’m trying my best to not go too deeply into the story, so as to not give away the big surprises. However, if you are a fairly clever person, you may have already figured out those secrets anyway. And that’s one of the bigger issues that we come across here. The writing goes on a very bland, take-no-risks approach. The operative word in that previous sentence is “bland.” I have no issue with this being something that we have seen before; it is not “what” it’s about that matters, but “how” it’s about it. This is a very lifeless experience. The first two acts, which mostly involves Elissa’s integration into her new high school and her growing interest in Ryan, are monotonous and feel as though they go on far longer than they need to. Lawrence’s chemistry with Thieriot is non-existent. Believing that Elissa would find any kind of fascination in Ryan is like trying to find satisfaction in eating a bowl of spoiled eggs. It just ain’t happenin’. The final act is the strongest (or should I say “least weak”?), filled with some nice, suspense-filled moments of Elissa trying to escape the terror that is after her. Unfortunately, after trudging through the first two thirds, the movie lost me, and the climax and final “twist” was not solid enough to win me back.
Have you ever been with a group of friends watching a movie, and you find yourselves blurting out lines of dialogue and certain plot turns right before they pop up on screen? That’s exactly the kind of film House at the End of the Street is. It is a routine product that isn’t scary enough to frighten, and not quite gripping enough to thrill. At the most basic level, I liked what it was trying to be. There was a sincere effort to examine some of the characters at a deeper level, and make them more than just archetypes of a genre. The problem was that the characters weren’t made to be all that interesting to begin with. When the people are not portrayed well enough for us to sympathize with their stories, how are we supposed to pull for them when the horror finally rushes their way?
Final Grade: C