HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET
Director: Mark Tonderai
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot, Elisabeth Shue, Gil Bellows, Eva Link, Nolan Gerard Funk, Allie MacDonald
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and brief drug material)
Running Time: 1:41
Release Date: 9/21/12
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 21, 2012
It is difficult to believe that Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), our heroine, is as perceptive as the buildup to the climax of House at the End of the Street requires her to be. This is a young woman who begins small talk with a guy whose parents were murdered by asking about his dead parents. This is someone who picks up a photograph of the same guy's family and says, "That must have been nice," referring to the fact that at one time—you know, before they were brutally murdered—he had two parents.
In the final act of the movie, she is an ace detective, following one clue to another until she manages to piece together the movie's central mystery within a matter of minutes. Perhaps she is simply better with inanimate objects than people. If she were truly perceptive, she would have figured at least half of this out by the second act.
Then again, poor Elissa is too busy rebelling against her fairly rational mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) to be bothered with such things as the disappearance of a girl who killed her parents, the surviving son who still lives in the house, and what must be a string of other crimes in the area, which, apparently, even the local townsfolk have managed to overlook. The local police force apparently has one officer (Gil Bellows) on duty at any given time (how else to explain why he doesn't use his radio to call for backup at a pretty important moment), and he's the sort of cop that possesses the kind of bad luck or incompetence that leads him to walk around a dark house with a flashlight with low batteries.
If this sounds dumb, clichéd, and assembled from the cheapest types of machinations, at least keep in mind that most of them do not occur or become noticeable until the movie's maddening final act. At that point, the only interest the movie has is debating which is more frustrating: that David Loucka's screenplay abandons its already shaky psychological logic for a twist (twice if one counts the movie's pointless coda) or that it lowers the characters' intelligence to the point that they all line up on at a time to fall victim to the horrors inside the titular house.
Elissa and Sarah have moved from Chicago to a house in the middle of a forest preserve out east. They manage to rent the place because the house next door is the scene of the aforementioned double murder four years prior, and the people in the area still talk about the fact that the body of the girl who killed her parents was never found. Some say she lives in the woods.
After getting accustomed to her new life, Elissa meets the son of the murdered parents. His name is Ryan (Max Thieriot), and he seems like a nice enough guy. He even offers her a ride home when he sees her walking down the street after leaving a party where local phony Tyler (Nolan Gerard Funk) tried to go too far with her. Ryan is understandably quiet, reserved, and uncomfortable talking about his family.
At this point, it becomes necessary to reveal the obvious—that Ryan has a secret—and the slightly-less-but-still-pretty obvious—that secret is that his sister Carrie Anne (Eva Link) is still alive. She lives in the cellar of the house, where Ryan delivers her meals and a syringe to calm her. Given the opportunity, as she has on two occasions, she runs away, and now that her brother is getting closer to Elissa, she seems to have a new target for her murderous ways.
Loucka plays that mystery with some compassion for Ryan, who has essentially set himself up to be the local outcast simply because he has to care for his sister. The screenplay plays a little with shifting perceptions of his character, especially in one scene when he finally comes into town and meets the wrath of Tyler and others who have come to despise him despite knowing nothing about him.
This does not hinder director Mark Tonderai from exploiting the usual horror movie conventions. The prologue is a visual mess of strobe lights and filter effects (A party montage is joylessly similar, using various camera speeds), and when Carrie Anne is on the loose, Tonderai offers only cheap, anticlimactic startle moments (The most ridiculous one eyes a couple making out in a car as Carrie Anne makes her way toward them). Theo Green's ambient score and Tonderai's pacing completely undermine the exclamation point at the end of Elissa's eventual long walk through the house, since it plays the sequence supposing a threat that, for all we know, does not exist at the moment.
That sets up the climax, which is the routine series of people going where they shouldn't as a killer stalks them. The final act of House at the End of the Street makes almost no sense in the moment and even less in retrospect.
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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