So just how bad is ‘House at the End of the Street’ then? Well, put it this way it would be very easy for me right now to lose my faith in humanity or with less exaggeration the American movie going public to be more precise. When a minority of an audience turns out for ‘Dredd’ the very same opening weekend - one of the purest most hardcore sci-fi actioners ever made - and instead a large majority makes this woefully dull teen drama disguised as a horror film a $31 million domestic hit on a $10 million budget a dark shadow of depression cast over me.
Genre fans could be forgiven that with a similar title like this that the film might hark back to the brutality and deep down and dirty sleaze of rape and revenge movies such as Wes Craven’s infamous debut ‘The Last House on the Left’ (1972) or Ruggero Deodato’s equally controversial ‘House on the Edge of the Park’ (1980). It does not, not at all. This is safe watered down for the masses teen friendly PG-13 so called horror that targets this particular demographic with no intension at aiming for the real horror fan. To make it more insulting is that while the entire premise is hackneyed the film fails to try to do anything original with it just playing out all the old clichés by the book. Even worse is that it is all terribly executed with zero scare factor.
The movie opens with a double murder as a 13-year-old girl Carrie-Ann kills her parents in their beds of their family home and runs away into the late stormy night never to be seen again. All the violence happens off screen and there is not one drop of blood in sight throughout the whole of the film. Flashing forwards years later, just recently divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) move into the house opposite in this small town. Sarah got such a good deal on the place as the property prices have fallen significantly in the area due to the stigma of their neighbouring house’s terrifying history. Carrie-Ann’s older brother Ryan (Max Thieriot) the sole surviving member of the family lives alone in the house and is an outcast in the town due to its people’s anger at him blaming him for the fall of property value wanting to buy his house so they can demolish it but he will not sell to them. Local police officer Weaver (Gil Bellows) however is Ryan’s only sympathizer.
Against her mother’s wishes, Elissa starts a relationship with Ryan. He tells her of what happened to his sister before she murdered their parents about how when they were playing on swings he accidently injured her by swinging her too high in which she fell off severely hurting her head leaving her brain damaged that caused her to get extremely aggressive. After which, for his safety Ryan’s parents sent him away to take care of his sickly aunt. He was there when his parents were murdered and returned to the house after. In a subjective narrative, it is revealed to us the audience that Ryan has secretly been taking care of a young woman who appears to be his sister in a secret room below the basement. Twice Carrie-Ann escapes seemingly trying to attack Elissa.
There are a couple of noteworthy mentions here. Firstly, is that the acting is very decent all round considering the piss poor screenplay the cast had to work with. Shue is always good, Lawrence is very talented and endlessly interesting to watch and Thieriot is convincing as the misunderstood freaky loner who then turns on some startling menace in the third act. Secondly, the film’s double twist works to an extent, as I did not see it coming and is very Hitchcockian. However, having good psychological twists and turns counts for nothing when I was not invested in anything at all that preceded it and therefore the impact of this intended shocking finale is cut off at the knees. It is like screenwriter David Loucka thought he had a clever enough climax that he did not have to bother with an engaging story leading up to it filling up the majority of the running time with tedium throwing in there every generic idea possible. Nothing here works. The movie is made in the blandest of ways and seems to strive more for teen drama rather than employing horror elements. All the seen it all before narrative genre conventions are here but how most of it is presented is anything but horror expect for certain moments like some ineffectual jump scares etc. There is a distinct lack of suspense and we are just left bored with what is supposed to be a thrilling horror film but comes across more like an episode of ‘One Tree Hill’.
There really is not much more I can say about this dreary by the numbers originality challenged piece of dreck with added teen angst. To be honest I am just as bored of writing this review as I was actually watching the movie. ‘House at the End of the Street’ is a truly forgettable experience and is nothing more than a vehicle for its star Jennifer Lawrence as she slums it for a paycheck between instalments of her Battle Royale with cheese franchise. Oh sorry, I meant The Hunger Games franchise. If there was a God and there cannot be because of this atrocity committed at the box office then ‘Dredd’ would have gobbled up that $31 million North American gross instead and we would have got a potentially fantastic series of hard R science fiction action sequels to look forward to. Unless worldwide takings and Blu-ray and DVD sales can save it then this is not going to happen. What we will get for dam sure now is a slew of lame PG-13 offerings like this trying to pass itself off as real horror. Very sad indeed.
* out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.