If it were possible to buy stock in any Under-25 actress today, I’d pick Jennifer Lawrence first, Emma Stone would be a close second, and Kristen Stewart would be last. Lawrence has a pair of blockbuster movie franchises in her back pocket (The Hunger Games, X-Men), is a past Oscar nominee and is generating buzz for the upcoming Silver Linings Playbook. So if a studio were to have a Jennifer Lawrence film on its bench, September 2012 would probably look like some prime real estate.
Prime real estate and a murder-related discount are what attract Elissa (Lawrence) and her mom (Elisabeth Shue) to their new home in House at the End of the Street. Elissa becomes drawn to reclusive next door neighbor Ryan (Max Thieriot). Four years earlier, Ryan’s parents were murdered by his sister, who promptly disappeared. (That explains how Elissa and her mom got such a good price on their rental.) Ryan now lives in the house by himself, but a series of strange occurrences make it clear Ryan’s house hasn’t seen its last dead body.
I have no interest in giving away too much of what happens in House at the End of the Street, which was filmed way back in 2010. What I will say is you should ignore the fact that the film looks (check out the trailer below) and sounds like a horror film (this is not another remake of The Last House on the Left, nor are there any hauntings to be found). Instead, House at the End of the Street is purely a PG-13 psychological thriller. (A somewhat schlocky, thoroughly watchable psychological thriller, but a psychological thriller nonetheless.)
That’s not to say director Mark Tonderai doesn’t have fun with certain horror conventions. As you can tell by now, I think Jennifer Lawrence is a fabulous actress, but even she’s not good enough to prevent Elissa from stepping outside her house to investigate a suspicious noise or from approaching a dead body that may not actually be dead. Tonderai and his team — David Loucka (Dream House…hmm, I’m sensing a pattern) is credited with the screenplay — also display some Psycho-tic tendencies with their story and a few visual cues.
Lawrence puts a mature, sarcastic spin on the stock Surly Teenager character. She and Shue make for a fine mother-daughter duo. Elissa’s relationship with her mom — who conveniently works nights at a hospital, so Elissa is often alone at night — is strained. We don’t get all the information right away, but Lawrence and Shue play their scenes well enough that we get the picture. (Of course, the movie goes ahead and gives us the information anyway.)
Thieriot has the film’s trickiest role. Initially, his Ryan comes off as both sweet and shell-shocked. As we learn more about Ryan and his family’s history, however, I didn’t really see Thieriot’s performance evolve. Gill Bellows (Ally McBeal) also pops in as a friendly cop and the one person in town who isn’t creeped out by Ryan.
For a little while, it seemed like the scariest people in the movie would be the jerky neighbors who desperately want Ryan to move out because he and his spooky house are lowering the value of their property. Thankfully, the film has some twists and turns along the way that you may be able to figure out depending on how many thrillers you’ve seen.
House at the End of Street isn’t terribly original (nor terribly scary), but it makes for an okay late-September viewing option. I’d say it’s a step above a solid straight-to-DVD title; the major difference is this one gets a wide theatrical release because it happens to star one of Hollywood’s hottest young actresses.