House at the End of the Street (2012)

Fear reaches out … for the girl next door.

It’s hard to believe Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence shot films before she rose to stardom with Winter’s Bone (2010) and The Hunger Games (2012). Psychological thriller House at the End of the Street — the picture’s title sounds surprisingly similar to that of Elton John’s feel-good 1989 track Club at the End of the Street — was shot in 2010, aiming to attract the generic teen demographic, but got lucky after Lawrence’s charisma increased, slightly elevating the title’s universal appeal upon release. The question remains, would Jennifer Lawrence star in another lackluster by-the-numbers would-be thriller? Not likely!

We all know there are commonly two types of horror films, those aimed to frighten or terrify or those riddled with sex and gore — fortunately we sometimes get a mix of both. However, a constant dilemma remains for filmmakers. When producing a ‘teen friendly’ PG-13 thriller such as this, it’s essential that those involved with the project amp up the tension to deliver legitimate scares, otherwise a number of eager horror fans will disregard the title entirely, as a result, halving its already narrow market. House at the End of the Street is neither creepy, chilling nor gruesome, it’s also void of suspense, splatter or nudity, alienating a handful of horror fans from the get-go; it does feature a couple of plot twists, but nothing worth boasting about.

Conversations with a serial killer?
Conversations with a serial killer?

Newly divorced Dr. Sarah Cassidy (Elisabeth Shue) and her 17-year-old daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) have just moved to a new house in the countryside for a fresh start. The pair shortly discovers that a young psychotic girl — named Carrie Anne Jacobson — slaughtered her parents with a hammer in the property just next-door several years earlier, fleeing into the woods without a trace. While initially crept out by the account, Elissa befriends outcast college student Ryan Jacobson (Max Thieriot) — due to his gentle nature — who is the sole survivor of the tragedy, inheriting his family’s property after his parents were murdered. Although local police officer Bill Weaver (Gil Bellows) assures Elissa’s distressed mother that Ryan is just a lonely soul aching for a friend, the Cassidy’s mother-daughter relationship becomes rocky after Elissa starts spending more time with the troubled Ryan against her mother’s wishes. As the teenage couple grows more intimate with one another, Elissa learns that Ryan’s secretive past could shockingly turn into her worst nightmare.

To be fair, House at the End of the Street isn’t necessarily a terrible film, it’s just bland. One can’t help but admire Hush (2008) director Mark Tonderai’s endeavor to create a psychosomatic Hitchcock-esque thriller for teenagers, melding contemporary teen horror clichés with Psycho-like suspense. Regrettably, House at the End of the Street plods along with a monotonous pacing, a lack of intensity, explain-it-all flashbacks and predictable surprises, undermining Tonderai’s inspired early intentions. It’s understandably difficult working under the constraints of the dreaded PG-13 rating within horror, so to Tonderai’s credit, he at least attempts to generate a tolerable atmosphere within the picture’s unnecessary 100-plus-minute running time. Writer Jonathan Mostow — who was originally attached to direct — is mainly to blame for this middling effort as his story shows little innovation or inventiveness; it’s easy to notice parallels between Mostow’s last thriller, the banal Breakdown (1997) and House at the End of the Street, as both borrow ideas from other — more superior — titles.

Lawrence, one of Hollywood's big guns!
Lawrence, one of Hollywood’s big guns!

One can’t imagine a reason why anyone would seek out House at the End of the Street for reasons other than its star, Jennifer Lawrence. For what it’s worth, the picture is well cast. Shot before her breakthrough performance in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, Lawrence does a credible job with this dull and derivative screenplay, crafting an affable heroine who’s enjoyable to watch, although JLaw is visibly no scream queen. Elisabeth Shue, Hollow Man (2000), is reasonably credible as the caring mother, who is afraid that her daughter might make the same adolescent mistakes as she did, even Gil Bellows, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), is convincing as officer Bill Weaver, a nice cop who falls for Shue’s charms and tends to see the best in people. The psychopath of the hour though, Max Thieriot, Jumper (2008) feels awfully miscast and is about as weak the tensionless screenplay.

House at the End of the Street — its generic title blatantly ripped-off the superior 2009 flick Last House on the Left — is one of those indistinguishable horror flicks that is swiftly forgotten directly after initial viewing. Years from now I’m sure I’ll see the cover art for House at the End of the Street displayed somewhere and have little recollection as to what the picture was actually about as nothing from the title particularly stuck with me. Feel free to check out House at the End of the Street if you are planning to sift through Lawrence’s back-catalogue for whatever reason — but keep expectations low — otherwise, there’s really nothing new to see here.

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

House at the End of the Street is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia