‘House at the End of the Street’: A Detour for Jennifer Lawrence’s Career, a Potential Dead End for Everyone Else’s (REVIEW)
A soulless, uncreative, cliché-laden anger generator disguised as a horror thriller, Mark Tonderai’s film undermines itself at every turn and infuriates its audience.
That a distinction exists between the general mediocrity of its existence and the excruciating incredulity of actually watching it is a testament to the fact that the quantity of horror films in theaters is more important than the quality.
What secrets hide within ‘House at the End of the Street’?
Jennifer Lawrence, who distinguished herself in films great (Hunger Games, X-Men: First Class) and small (Winter’s Bone) in the last few years, plays Elissa, a teenage singer-songwriter who moves to a new town with her mother Sarah (Elizabeth Shue). Situated in a palatial abode down the street from the house where a young girl killed her parents several years before, the daughter and mother attempt to settle into a community as petty as it is affluent. But when Elissa makes friends with Ryan (Max Thieriot), the surviving son of the murdered family, even Sarah expresses reservations about her new social circle.
As Elissa and Ryan grow closer to one another, Sarah becomes overprotective, driving her daughter right into his arms. But when strange things start happening in their neighborhood, Elissa is forced to decide whether to embrace her new friend or succumb to the fear and gossip of the community that shuns him.
While a certain kind of world-building is necessary in any film to set up the characters and their background, there are few films that feel more purely expository than House at the End of the Street. Not a single line of dialogue doesn’t feature some (supposedly) pertinent detail about exactly who Elissa and co. are, why they do what they do, and what they do or may want.
As bravely as Lawrence attempts to breath life into this lackluster script, Elissa is given no personality or interests outside those she expresses verbally, so there’s no need for interpretation – either by the actor, or the audience watching her. Not to mention the fact that she’s nosy to the point of abject stupidity – not because we know she’s in a horror movie and shouldn’t go digging around, but because it’s just plain rude for a person to walk into someone’s house uninvited and start snooping around, especially after that someone’s entire life is defined by a terrible tragedy.
Meanwhile, the instincts of the adults in the town where Elissa moves vacillate between apathetic and histrionic – they’re either completely unconcerned, or overreact. There seem to be no repercussions at all when bullies trash a boy’s car in public, but when the victim of the attack defends himself by breaking one of the bullies’ ankles the grown-ups become apoplectic.
Worst of all, Tonderai seems fully sincere about the style and storytelling in the film, unaware or disinterested in the similarities between his visual flourishes and, say, the opening credits of Seven, or the iconic finale of The Silence of the Lambs. There’s something to be said for a young horror filmmaker who at least knows he’s standing on the shoulders of giants, but when you unironically stage a scene where a female character trips on nothing while running away from an attacker, such choices are a delusion that creativity (much less originality) is being employed.
Ultimately it’s not the conventionality of House at the End of the Street that makes it such a profound disappointment. It’s that the conventionality is presented as originality, either in concept or execution.
Lawrence, thankfully, will survive this debacle and move quickly on to bigger and better things. But it behooves everyone else involved to take a long, hard look at where they want to go, because otherwise, House at the End of the Street will turn into nothing but a dead end for their careers. It certainly already is for viewers.
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