Title: House at the End of the Street
Directed By: Mark Tonderai
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot, Elisabeth Shue, Gil Bellows, Eva Link, Nolan Gerard Funk, Allie MacDonald
“Look at that tree. Do you see the face?” “No.” “Look for another three minutes of screen time. Now can you see the face?” “Yes! I see the face.” Two scenes about the face later and I still didn’t see the thing. Thanks “House at the End of the Street” for making me stare at a tree for five minutes for no reason.
One night, young Carrie Ann (Eva Link) brutally murders her parents making her brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), the sole surviving family member. Four years later, the town still feels the effects of the vicious crime, including the fact that a local murder house drives down property values. Homeowners in the area aren’t happy, but that turns out to be a plus for Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) because they get a gorgeous house on a budget. Sarah’s got no problem living next door to the location of a double homicide until Elissa befriends Ryan. Forever shunned by everyone in town, Elissa feels sorry for Ryan who, to her, seems as though he’s just sad and misunderstood.
Oh, please. The kid’s sister butchers his parents and Ryan’s just sad and misunderstood? Thieriot actually sells it pretty well, but thanks to writer David Loucka’s incessant foreshadowing, you see every twist and turn coming minutes away.
Poor Max Thieriot. “My Soul to Take” and then this? He’s either going to get pigeonholed as the psycho next door or have his talent entirely overlooked due to dismal material. Thieriot certainly had his work cut out for him, Loucka loading the character up with cliché creepy behavior, but Thieriot handles it like a champ, turning on the charm, but always feeling quite broken.
Lawrence finds herself in a similar situation with Elissa. The character is incredibly erratic. One minute she comes across as a mature young woman with a great relationship with her mother, but the next she’s giving Sarah the silent treatment and behaving like a child. Loucka throws in some nonsense about a troubled past involving Elissa’s father, but keeps it so vague, the point has little to no value. However, perhaps magically, Lawrence uses a notably honest performance to turn Elissa into a three dimensional character. You may not always like her or agree with her, but you do believe her.
Shue’s got a tougher time breaking down the script’s walls, which makes sense because her material is the most ludicrous of all. Sarah is absolutely drowning in that nonsensical husband/daddy issue and then gets stuck with a painfully desperate relationship with a local cop. There are a bunch of supporting characters in play that never really register, but the one who’s got it the worst is definitely Jillian (Allie MacDonald). All she does the entire movies is pass out, throw up or glare at Elissa whenever Ryan’s around.
Perhaps it’s because I’m still so deeply traumatized by “Dream House,” but I’m eager to point every finger I’ve got at Loucka’s writing. Mark Tonderai’s directing isn’t particularly competent, but he does deserve some credit for attempting to spice up the visuals here and there, even if that means an overabundance of rack focuses and a very early scene of the film that plays out entirely in extreme close-ups. Loucka, on the other hand, just can’t get off that easy. “Dream House” is one thing, but you can’t repeat the same mistake in another film and get away with it, especially when it comes to the big twist, which essentially is the crux of the film. First off, you just can’t spoil it. If you spoil it, you have no climax. And secondly, if you’re going to have a big twist, better make sure it makes sense before going for it.
“House at the End of the Street” is just your typical pre-Halloween horror hack. It’s rather slow, has zero inventive kills or any set pieces for that matter, is constantly tripping over its own narrative and, worst of all, it just flat out isn’t scary. Lawrence is safe and sound, riding the “Hunger Games” wave, but please someone help Thieriot and get him a role that matches his talent. Dylan Bates maybe? Fingers are crossed!