STARRING Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Theriot, Gil Bellows DIRECTED BY Mark Tonderai SCREENPLAY David Loucka, Eduardo Gordon, Jonathan Mostow MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 101 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Relativity Media
"House at the End of the Street" a Dead End
After having watched the brilliance of Jennifer Lawrence over the past couple of years, including an Oscar-nominated performance in Winter's Bone and a box-office winning performance in The Hunger Games, it's either disturbing or refreshing to discover that not everything Lawrence touches turns to gold.
Sometimes, it turns to Silly Putty.
House at the End of the Street is Silly Putty horror, a film so absurdly predictable and filled with paint-by-numbers characters that it's difficult to imagine that Lawrence, or for that matter former Oscar winner Elisabeth Shue, ever looked at the script and thought "Yessirree, Bob. This is a winner."
Because it's just not. It is a better film because both Lawrence and Shue are in it, but even in a world where teenybopper horror can go gangbusters at the box-office it's difficult to imagine that there's going to be much box-office life in story for this rather sterile, PG-13 rated film.
Lawrence plays 17-year-old Elissa, a young woman who joins her mother (Elisabeth Shue) in moving away from the big city of Chicago and into this small town where under most circumstances they'd be way out of their league financially. Fortunately for them, I suppose, is that the house next door to their new home was the scene of a horrific crime and the resulting drop in property values has made the rent in their luxurious new home quite affordable.
Oh, but is it worth it?
The story goes that the girl next door viciously killed both of her parents before drowning in a nearby dam while trying to escape. The lone survivor, brother Ryan (Max Thieriot), continues to live in the house alone but has become an outcast in the small town. Elissa, despite her mother's warnings, can't resist befriending the loner but before long she discovers there's more secrets in the house and by the time she learns them it may be too late.
With a production budget estimated to be right about $7 million, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Lawrence's popularity alone can help the film make back its budget despite the fact that it's unlikely to even approach blockbuster status. Despite being given very little to work with, the film's ensemble cast makes the most of things and considering the film's lack of gore and PG-13 rating this may be a good intro film for those parents who have teens who've been begging them for the horror flick experience.
Jennifer Lawrence manages to find a few places to go as Elissa that remind you just how good of an actress she is even when her material lets her down. Director Mark Tonderai seems a tad obsessed with keeping Lawrence in a tank top, but even worse than that obvious low-grade exploitation attempt are his over-stylized early reveals that are part music video and part 80's spoof horror.
Elisabeth Shue is strong here, as well, with a performance that manages to easily transcend her rather generic maternal role that was obviously down on paper. While she won't likely be seeing any major award nominations for her work here, it's always nice to see Shue on the big screen and here she makes a solid argument that we should be seeing her quite a bit more.
As Ryan, the obviously lonesome and damaged brother, Max Thieriot may very well give the film's most satisfying and layered performance. Thieriot manages to be simultaneously sympathetic, appealing, creepy and and caring. Heck, it's almost a surprise there wasn't a Radiohead song here.
Theo Green's original music is your typical studio horror fare, while Miroslaw Baszak's camera work emphasizes dark shadows and confined places in creating a sense of anxiety and jumpiness. Lisa Soper's production design works similarly alongside Baszak's camera work, with the two weaving themselves together to complement Tonderai's abundant use of sudden scares and orchestral string suspense intros.
Mostly owing to its quality ensemble cast, House at the End of the Street isn't so much a disaster as it is simply a disappointment given its quality acting pedigree. An average film that should have been far better, House at the End of the Street is really the worst kind of horror film.