House at the End of the Street
The Review in the Middle of the Blog
(I wanted a title equally generic to ‘House at the End of the Street’.)
Hollywood seems to require that at least one horror film centered around a dysfunctional family’s move into a small countryside town littered with deadly nutcases be released per month, and House at the End of the Street is September’s offering.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, and in this case it almost isn’t. Almost. Even though its borderline infuriating title leads most to believe otherwise, the film makes intelligent decisions in its storytelling and horror sequences, and has just enough charm to play like it isn’t a carbon copy of, well, any other movie of its genre. Unfortunately for the film, the basis of the story has been so beaten to death (no pun intended) over the past many years that, unless it has a Cabin in the Woods-sized twist to contribute, it will be exiled by critics and shunned by audiences faster than you can say “decapitation.” Audiences demand innovative and sparkly new entertainment each time they walk into the theater, and House at the End of the Street walks a thin line between that and cliché Frankenstein.
Here’s a story recap you’ve probably read before: Girl and mom move to middle-of-nowhere town in hopes of new life, house has morbid reputation, girl meets boy, drama, kill kill kill. Okay, it’s really not that bad. Typical teen Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), who, as typical teens do, despises her mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue), is upset about moving from bustling Chicago to a small town in Pennsylvaniahhh. The two move into a house just up the street from the hottest murder site in the country, which is where the title comes in, I guess. Years before Carrie-Ann Jacobson, suffering brain damage after a childhood accident, murdered both her parents in the house, leaving only her older brother Ryan (Max Thieriot). Ryan now lives in the house alone, outcast from fellow high school students due to his house’s reputation.
Sarah tells Elissa to stay away from Ryan, because he’s a freak, so Elissa quickly goes out of her way to befriend him. As the two get closer, they each face their own helping of drama. Elissa deals with her mom’s strict and sometimes drunken parenting, while down at the end of the street Ryan struggles to keep Carrie-Ann, murderous as ever, from escaping her secret chamber underneath the basement and continuing her frantic murdering spree. Classic high school problems.
Like a pyscho lurking around the corner with a sledgehammer, the movie does hit you with its fair share of twists, some of which are quite unexpected, and others that probably should have been abandoned on the cutting room floor. Director Mark Tonderai’s syncopated pacing waddles through the conventional story lines (Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) is like totally a jerk, and that’s as far as that story goes) and speed skates through the more important horror sequences. A potentially intriguing backstory involving the late Jacobson parents and their children is grazed over in exchange for absolutely non-impactive drama among the film’s high school characters. Around the midway mark the story veers closer to Lifetime channel territory than actual killer flick. Which, in its own right, wouldn’t have been terrible if it actually lead somewhere.
Carrie-Ann’s demented stagger and Samara Morgan from The Ring hairstyle make her a somewhat frightening ghoul for an occasional jolt, but nothing more. The movie never truly finds solid footing in its scares. How many times is Carrie-Ann going to escape the basement before we realize all she is capable of doing is sprinting through the woods amidst flashes of an unsuspecting Elissa, the target, peacefully making dinner in her home? The film’s final horrific act, while oozing a “please leave the night light on” unpredictability, is too banal and unimaginative to be anywhere above average.
House was filmed back in 2010, before Lawrence was launched to A-list stardom for her lead role in The Hunger Games. Could her sudden popularity explain why this so-so movie made it to the big screen two years later? Judging by what’s currently in theaters, House an ideal outing for, say, a group of 13 year olds looking for some cheap thrills. But to the experienced movie-goer, it never truly finds a home.