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House at the End of the Street

Movie Information

The Story: A mother and daughter move in next door to a house where a pair of murders were committed — but the house still harbors a dark secret. The Lowdown: Fitfully stylish, but utterly silly, never scary and, finally, rather boring.
Genre: Mentally Disturbed Horror
Director: Mark Tonderai
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thieriot, Gil Bellows, Eva Link
Rated: PG-13

This is so not a good movie. It’s mentally unbalanced horror at its most basic — with a silly twist that’s obvious for far too long to provide any kind of a shock at the big moment of revelation. (And I’m generously assuming that you’ll still be awake by that point, which is open to serious debate.) This is not only generic stuff, this is sloppy generic stuff. This is a movie that doesn’t even bother to establish that the title house at the end of the street is in fact at the end of the street — or why that matters. Saying that House at the End of the Street is contrived is an insult to contrivances. The unfortunate thing is that there are several instances where director Mark Tonderai shows more than a little stylishness throughout — though, granted, some of it belongs to other people. He cannot, however, wrestle the dumb screenplay to the ground.

The whole thing starts with one those prologues — you know, where you see the events that are supposedly at the bottom of it all. In reality, of course, all the footage of the murder of the parents in the house at the end of the street is a cinematic shell game feeding you only the information it wants you to have. In other words, we sort of see the murders and the daughter who committed them run into the woods where it’s presumed she met her doom. It’s also pretty ho and hum — unless you’re scared by bloody feathers. Flash forward four years to mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue, who we’re supposed to believe doesn’t look old enough to have a 17-year-old daughter) and daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) moving into the house not quite at the of the street. They can afford to rent this because it’s next to door to…well, you know what. They’ve come from Chicago, which, yes, means that Elissa is all pissy about leaving the city — and, of course, they already have a strained relationship since Elissa has spent most of her life with her rock musician father.

Mom has been led to believe the murder house is empty. Of course, it’s not. Turns out that the surviving son, Ryan (Max Theriot), still lives there. He is of the reclusive, brooding, sensitive sort with big soulful eyes and what looks like a gallant attempt at a beard that didn’t come off well. Elissa — unable to distinguish dreamy from demented — thinks he’s the bee’s knees of needy sexiness. Ah, but what she doesn’t know is that deep in the recesses of a secret sub-basement (every home has one) is a secret room in which Ryan keeps (none too well, since she’s always getting out) his homicidally-inclined sister. If all this sounds spectacularly dumb, believe it or not, it actually gets even dumber. (Bear in mind, this screenplay is by David Loucka, who penned last year’s Dream House.) By the end of it, even things that seemed to make sense earlier have been rendered nonsensical.

Yes, there are flashes of creativity in the direction, but other than that what do you get? Well, there are about four shock effects — or more correctly, the same shock effect four times. There are several instances of things that are pretty darn funny that weren’t meant to be funny. It has been argued that Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue do what they can with what they’re given, but I’m not even sure that’s true. The longer I watched, the more I felt that the most they contributed consisted of showing up and keeping straight faces. That may well have been a Herculean endeavour, but it doesn’t make the performances exactly praiseworthy. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and brief drug material.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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