Synopsis: A mother and daughter move to a new town and find themselves living next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents. When the daughter befriends the surviving son, she learns the story is far from over.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thieriot, Gil Bellows
Director: Mark Tonderai
Running Length: 101 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: When I first saw the ads for The House at the End of the Street I mistakenly thought it was yet another remake of a forgotten 70’s/80’s horror film that had been given the PG-13 treatment to please the young adult audiences. Reading up on it I was interested to see that the script has been bouncing around Hollywood for nearly a decade before it was filmed and held for release until the time was right. Well, as we near the end of 2012 and ready for a Halloween season of thrillers the time seems to be right. Surprisingly, the film winds up having enough of the right elements going for it to be fairly entertaining in spite of being terribly contrived.
Let’s back up for a moment, shall we? When the movie was filmed, its star was not yet an Oscar nominee (for Winter’s Bone) nor had she headlined the first part of a major motion picture franchise (The Hunger Games). In a smart move, the distributor bumped the film from its original February release date to capitalize on Lawrence’s career as it continued its skyrocketing trajectory. Receiving great notices for The Hunger Games and more Oscar buzz for the upcoming Silver Linings Playbook, it’s a rare case when a studio held onto a film for all the right reasons.
It’s the presence of Lawrence that elevates the film to a slightly higher class bracket though even she can’t save it from itself in the end. As we exited the screening, my movie mate and I remarked at how it was Lawrence’s smartly knowing take on the woman-in-peril character that seemed fresh and believable even when she’s surrounded by plot holes and convenient happenings that are horror movie staples.
Pairing Lawrence with Shue is another smart approach as the two actresses play well off of each other. Shue is maybe a bit too earnest as a protective mother who previously had been a hellcat that ignored her daughter. We get brief snippets of their past, enough to know that Shue is now the parent in charge seeing that dad is deceased. Though she’s now some sort of doctor that get’s saddled with quite a few last minute “late shifts’ to conveniently leave her daughter at home alone, we know she’s still holding on to her bad ass nature because she sports chipped black nail polish (though I do wonder what hospital would allow their doctors that casual of an adornment).
Mother and daughter have moved into a rental property that’s right next door to a House With a Past. The scene of a double murder four years earlier, it’s not long before the surviving son and Lawrence buddy up, much to the mom’s cluck-clucking chagrin. Revealing more than that would spoil most of the film for you so let’s just say that the movie has its fair share of twists and turns…some good…some obvious to anyone that’s really paying attention. If I’m being honest, I had the whole thing figured out before the prologue was over…though the film did keep my attention as it began to unravel its secrets.
Unravel is a good word for the film and probably sounds better than saying the movie falls starts to fall apart near the halfway mark. There were a few points that I felt the flick wouldn’t be able to recover from a reveal or hairpin plot turn and was surprised that it sidestepped further p(l)ot holes and righted itself. It moves fast enough that if you aren’t catching on to what’s happening you’ll probably find yourself enjoying the developments.
It’s only after the film is over that you realize how much of, well, everything was placed where it was to divert your attention or explain things further down the road. We eventually learn that people we meet have been introduced only to get our leading lady into a certain mindset or location later on in the latter parts of the film. In that respect the movie should be both applauded and chastised for its shameless contrivances.
Still…it’s hard to argue that there aren’t some nice scares along the way. Yes, they mostly result in the standard “gotcha” moments but I jumped in my seat more than once…okay more than twice…but if I’m being honest it was at least three times. That can be attributed to some nice (if rote) direction from Tonderai and cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak (who also shot the claustrophobic thriller Pontypool) who work with an easy harmony to make the scary moments scary and lighter moments light.
Along with the strong work from Lawrence and Shue (who I continue to point out is the epitome of the ‘aging like a fine wine’ metaphor…even in brief turns like Hope Springs), there is interesting work from Thieriot as the atypical boy-next-door. Thieriot looks younger than Lawrence, though he is supposed to be several years older but it winds up working in both of their favor. Bellows stinks up the screen as one of the worst small town police officers this side of Barney Fife…or maybe it was his acting that brings a rancid odor to the film. Either way, his performance is laughable for all the wrong reasons.
A reasonably effective thriller that doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time/celluloid, The House at the End of the Street crafts a lot of normally eye-roll inducing moments into something that works more often than it doesn’t. If you can forgive the implausible coincidences and ignore the obvious solution to the mystery you’ll find yourself willing to spend some time in this House built on solid, if occasionally shaky, ground.