House at the End of the Street ReviewOctober 2, 2012
There are some talented actors and actresses who, at one point, choose to be a part of a film so bad that it could single-handedly tarnish their reputation. Take Jennifer Lawrence: she literally came out of nowhere when the 2010 film Winter’s Bone was released; this gave her worldwide recognition, especially after being nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. She then gained massive worldwide attention after her roles in X-Men: First Class as Mystique, the iconic character Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and she is also starring alongside Bradley Cooper in the upcoming David O. Russell film Silver Linings Playbook – notable for recently winning the People’s Choice Award at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. However, she also chose to be in a film called House at the End of the Street, of all things. Granted, she probably joined the cast before realizing her real worth as an actress, yet here we are. Is House at the End of the Street a fresh horror film, or is this simply a boring crapfest with a pretty face?
Elissa Cassidy (Jennifer Lawrence) and her mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) choose to move after Sarah’s recent divorce, and soon they find the home of their dreams in the middle of a woodland town. The fantastic home is at a remarkably low price since the house next door is known for a grisly murder, in which a girl named Carrie-Ann Jacobson brutally killed her parents in their beds four years prior. She soon disappears – nobody in the town knows whether or not she died – leaving only her brother Ryan (Max Thieriot) as the lone survivor. It would be an understatement to say that Ryan is a social outcast; the neighborhood hates him because the incident decreased their property values, and he is simply a mysterious person to begin with. Elissa feels compassion for him when she moves into town, and the mystery surrounding the murder of the Jacobsons also begins to unravel.
I never had that much faith in this movie, even though Jennifer Lawrence gave me some hope, since I trust her judgment in picking decent screenplays. However, as I theorized beforehand, she must have signed a contract before she truly realized her full potential, because this is one of the worst films I have seen all year. Granted, there are things about this film that make it better than movies like the remake of When a Stranger Calls (one of the worst movies I have ever seen). First of all, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is quite possibly the best part about this film, but I’ll come back to that in a little bit. The story of this movie is actually quite inane, which I think is a result of misguided writing and marketing to some extent. Of course, the trailers give us a sense that this is actually an intense thriller, House at the End of the Street is not much more than a mediocre teen romance with creepiness sprinkled on it. Sure, Max Thieriot has decent chemistry with his glowing co-star, but sadly it is wasted due to this very clichéd and nearly tensionless story. I can’t say that House at the End of the Street is completely predictable, though; a rather clever twist occurs that dominates the final act of the story. Honestly, it threw my date and I for a loop when it happened. Still, #HATES is the epitome of the stereotypical Hollywood horror production. It’s predictable, clichéd, devoid of any real scares and a lot of the story doesn’t make sense. The plot is acceptable, and I was able to piece together most of what happened, but at the same time the lame script has numerous plot holes that drag down the intelligence level of the story even further. In short, House at the End of the Street has only a clever twist in its favor. The house that the title refers to isn’t even on a street…
Mostly, the acting in House at the End of the Street is not good. At all. I am standing by my statement that Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is the best thing about this film. It may be a repeat of a couple of her past roles much in the same way that Clint Eastwood’s performance in Trouble with the Curve (which was actually released on the same day as this film) is a repeat of his usual “old cynical bastard” character, but I can’t really complain since she does alright here. Still, there is only so much that an actor can do with a poorly written script, and despite Lawrence’s best efforts she wasn’t able to save this film in the end. Elisabeth Shue gives a stale performance as Elissa’s mother. As I had previously mentioned, Max Thieriot has decent enough chemistry with his co-star, but there isn’t any notable depth to his performance, which I found disappointing since I have seen him in something before that I liked – I can’t quite remember what it was, though. Please, Katniss, choose better movies!
A huge reason why this film fails at its scares is the direction. I like how the film actually looks in terms of the quality of the imagery itself, for its saturated colors at least let us know that the filmmakers tried to establish this as a thriller. Still, director Mark Tonderai failed miserably at delivering any real scares; first of all, he flat out shows you what you’re supposed to be afraid of in the very beginning. Now, I have always been a believer in that the scariest things in film are those that you don’t see in until the very end (or perhaps not all), even if such things are horrifying beyond belief. This is so because our minds can create things far scarier than CGI or makeup can effectively render. The main horror in this film, Carrie-Ann, came across as only slightly creepy and deranged rather than downright frightening. The director also resorts to played-out tropes to scare the audience. Picture this: the character walks around a dimly lit house while creepy music is playing. He/she then stops dead in their tracks, we wait in the dead silence for about ten seconds, and then a friend appears from out of the blue and puts their hand on our protagonist’s shoulder. If you know the “jump scares” I’m talking about, then you can imagine the majority of House at the End of the Street; it becomes a joke.
Since Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence had her name plastered onto this film’s poster, I had some hope that this would be a genuine surprise. I mean, I’m pretty sure we all thought that both 21 Jump Street and Dredd would suck, but those turned out well didn’t they? 2012 has had its share of surprisingly good films, so I gave House at the End of the Street a chance. In the end, it turned out to be not only a poor excuse of a suspense thriller (let alone a horror film), but one of the worst films Hollywood has had to offer this year. If not for the saving graces of a good twist and Jennifer Lawrence, this likely would have been in the running for my top 10 list of the worst films of 2012. The poor direction, lazy acting, unholy lack of scares and overly clichéd story combine to make one boring film. If you are reading this and you are aspiring to become a screenwriter, please listen to what I am saying now: if you think about writing a script about characters moving next to a house where a murder occurred, please don’t. In all likelihood, it won’t end well for you.