House At The End Of The Street
When a film is directed by Mark Tonderai who made the 1990s cheese fest "Hush," starring Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow, you sort of know what you're about to get. The questions are: what made "It" girl Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games") do the film and did anyone read the script prior to signing on?
"The House at the End of the Street"is one of those throwback thrillers where all the characters make stupid choices and talk in simplistic declarations that are meant to be deep character insights where there are none. Here, we have a teenage girl named Elissa (Lawrence) who has just moved to a small town with her estranged mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue). The house they rent is gorgeous, isolated, and cheap.
Why is it so cheap? Because just through their backyard there is an abandoned house where a double-murder took place. Mom, of course, relays this information with a shrug while Elissa stares at the house, then her mom, as if the whole world just shifted off its axis. In real life her response would have been, "are you f**ing kidding me?" But this is not real life. And no one will react or do anything that normal humans do. Instead, Elissa goes "exploring" at dusk failing to mention that she has found a dirty old blanket in the woods right behind the house.
We quickly learn that a teenage girl named Carrie-Anne, who had severe emotional problems and killed her parents, committed the double-murder. She, in turn, escaped and then supposedly drowned in a nearby lake even though her body was never found. Seriously? That's like having your car stolen and telling everyone goblins took it.
Carrie-Anne’s brother Ryan (Max Thieriot) who was away at the time, has recently returned home to fix up the house for sale. Ryan is a quiet recluse shunned by the town simply for being the son of the murdered family ( which makes no sense since most people would react mostly out of pity). Here he is the town’s Frankenstein and is treated as such.
Soon enough, Elissa meets Ryan in the middle of the night after a high-school party goes wrong and she finds herself walking home alone on a deserted street. He offers to drive her home and she refuses - terrified of getting in the car with a stranger. But when it immediately starts to pour, she changes her mind because - well - she’d rather risk getting her head cut off by a serial killer than get her hair wet.
When mom finds out she’s talking to the local town creep - I mean - the poor kid whose parents were murdered, she does the unthinkable and invites him over for dinner in order to get to know him. But right before dessert, she announces that he and Elissa are forbidden to be in the same room together because he’s in college and she’s in high school. Elissa is mortified but the kindly Ryan agrees to the rule.
Of course, Elissa finds ways around this because she is resourceful as well as dishonest, traits that will get her into trouble. Why? Because there is more to the story of Carrie-Anne than people realize. And before the end of the film there will be a number of twists that may or not surprise in equal measure. Again, this isn’t a film for shrewd folk. It’s a film tailored for Mystery Science Theater and RiffTrax. And if you decide to see the movie, I won’t reveal any more here. Suffice to say poor Elissa will get herself into some troubling situations - most of which are preceded by a confused look and really long pauses where she appears to process everything in her very small brain.
Kudos to Jennifer Lawrence for attempting to inject some life into this film. But while she is an appealing actress, she internalizes so much of what she is going through that her face can sometimes seem emotionless. And then there’s Ms. Shue. It’s hard to believe that twenty-five years ago she herself was in high-school and babysitting a bunch of trouble-making kids in Chicago. Yes, "Adventures in Babysitting" is still Shue’s touchstone, despite an Academy Award nomination for her role in "Leaving Las Vegas." Since then she has turned up in classics like "Pirannha 3D" and "The Hollow Man." Here she acts two notches above everyone else in her line delivery - attempting to make her role something that it’s not. Meanwhile, Thieriot as the troubled Ryan does his best to actually create a real character out of the garbage going on around him. And he succeeds.
The problem is the distracting shaky-cam cinematography by Miroslaw Baszak that shoots everything in close-up while bobbing around as though the entire production was filmed on a dingy. Even the editing is strange with scenes ending abruptly or on weird lines. A few of these moments actually had the audience laughing. That said, there are a few nice jump-scares that work because of clever-editing so it clearly is a mixed bag. I won’t even start with the poor direction.
Ultimately, "House" gets more ludicrous and tired as it goes on. The first twist is good, even though clever audiences will figure it out shortly before it’s revealed. The final twist is also easy to figure out if you take a minute. But it’s also kind of silly, much like the rest of the movie.
Incidentally, the title for the movie is nonsensical, mostly because the house seems like it’s set behind another house and not really at the end of any street. Furthermore, the house isn’t really the main focus so it’s really misleading. So if you go thinking there’s a mystery about that darn house at the end of that damn street, you will be vastly disappointed. But if you want to see Jennifer Lawrence sing a few random songs on her porch, talk about how she was in a band when she lived in Chicago, get coerced into a "Battle of the Bands" competition by her new friends, (only to realize the film has nothing to do with being a singer or this "battle") then go see this movie.