Much like Elizabeth Olsen was able to elevate but not ultimately save ‘Silent House’, Jennifer Lawrence lends her talent to a similar project in ‘House at the End of the Street’. She’s good as a horror movie heroine, but the movie itself is way over directed by Mark Tonderai and far too reliant on silly/clichéd horror tropes. That’s of course as much attributed to the script by David Loucka (who in turn got a start on the story from filmmaker Jonathan Mostow) as anything Tonderai does, but he doesn’t help the cause and ultimately has crafted a movie that’s as likely to inspire giggles as screams. The screening I was at had both in almost equal measure. When the flick is trying to scare or unsettle you, it’s mostly successful, except of course for those unintentionally silly moments. Attempts at fleshing out the story are rather unsuccessful though, so while this does most of the things a fright flick should do, it still manages to leaves you slightly dissatisfied. Genre fans will probably find some things to like about the movie, but fans of Lawrence may be slightly let down.
Our story begins (after a violent prologue) with a teenager and her mother arriving in a small town. Elissa (Lawrence) and Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) have left Chicago after Sarah’s divorce and are seeking a fresh start. They luck into a rental home due to plummeting home values since a violent crime in a neighboring house. A number of years back, a young girl killed her parents, leaving the brother Ryan (Max Thieriot) as a neglected orphan. He’s since moved back to his old home, much to the anger of the people in town. An outcast of sorts herself, Elissa is drawn to the kindly loner, even as Sarah tries to keep them apart as she tries to be a concerned mother for the first time. They appear to be a good fit, first as friends and then as something potentially more, despite Sarah not wanting a relationship to begin and taking steps to prevent that. It can’t be that simple though, since Ryan is holding on to some big secrets, not just from his past, but from his present as well…secrets that could get Elissa into a lot of danger, whether he wants to protect her or not. There’s a lot of needless plot, but it does wind up turning into a horror movie eventually, I assure you.
Jennifer Lawrence has yet to give a bad performance in her young career, and that streak is not broken here. It just happens to be an inferior product than what she usually does. Here she gives some personality to a pretty generic role, often threatening to become a truly memorable female lead in a scary movie. That never fully happens, but she’s very solid and easily the best thing about the film, to say the least. Elisabeth Shue is immensely talented, but she’s wasted in a role that demands nothing and expects even less. Shue gives it her best shot, but most of her screen time is rather pointless or shamelessly manipulating the plot. Max Thieriot is very mediocre here, which is more or less how his young career has gone so far. Thieriot adds nothing to a character that is given far too many twists and turns to feel realistic. He doesn’t overtly hurt the movie, but he doesn’t help it out any either. The rest of the cast includes Gil Bellows, Nolan Gerard Funk, Eva Link, and Allie MacDonald, but Lawrence is really the only person worth mentioning.
Director Mark Tonderai is really his own worst enemy behind the camera, constantly calling attention to needless stylistic and visual flourishes instead of focusing on making an effective movie. As mentioned above, the script doesn’t exactly give him Oscar worthy material to work with, but Tonderai seems to be more interested in showing off than doing good work. He’s not untalented, but he doesn’t seem to have any focus, makes odd decisions (for example a possibly unconscious choice to have the camera shake far more when looking at Lawrence than any other cast member), and strands his actors without a clear vision. The same goes for the screenplay, as David Loucka (who hasn’t exactly done inspiring work up until now) and Jonathan Mostow (who only has a story credit, for what that’s worth) never fully are able to figure out exactly what the drive of the movie is. They throw all sorts of different scares at the screen, hoping one type sticks. The scares mostly work, so the trio deserve some credit there, but they fail for the most part in the other parts of making quality cinema.
‘House at the End of the Street’ isn’t bad by any stretch, which is more than you can say for plenty of horror films these days. It’s flawed though, and that’s certainly frustrating. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t phone in her performance at all, and that goes a long way towards making this periodically entertaining. Her character is made to do way too many dumb things, but her acting is far from dumb. With a better script and better direction this could have been an enjoyable, if forgettable, flick. That’s not the case, but if you’re looking for a fright flick, there’s worse ones in the market. Lawrence is always worth seeing, but it might be worth it to wait until her next film hits in a few months…
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!