Movie Review: House at the End of the Street (2012)
Director: Mark Tonderai
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Mark Thieriot, Nolan Gerard Funk, Gil Bellows
House at the End of the Street is a movie that seems bound and determined to suck in any way it possibly can. Movies this bad don't happen by accident; the filmmakers had to work hard at it, I'm sure. What I want to know is how a screenplay this shoddy was able to attract an actress as smart and talented as Jennifer Lawrence.
In it, she plays Elissa, a character of such awesome stupidity that the main reason the movie goes on for as long as it does is because this kid doesn't have an inkling of common sense. She and her mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) move from Chicago to a small Pennsylvanian town in a house they got for cheap because the house next door was the scene of a double homicide. It turns out that four years ago, a little girl murdered her parents with a hammer before she disappeared without a trace. The only resident in the house now is a college-aged guy named Ryan, who is the brother of the girl who killed her parents. He's become something of a recluse since the incident, and is hated and distrusted by everyone in town because he still lives in the house where his parents were killed. At least I think that's the reason. Either that or maybe it's because, with the way actor Max Thieriot plays him, the guy is just seriously creepy.
Elissa doesn't seem to notice, and is actually drawn to the guy. The relationship that blossoms between the two of them is one of the most unconvincing elements of the movie. When they first meet, he offers her a ride home on a dark and stormy night. They ride along in silence for a beat until she finally blurts out, “Your parents were murdered.” Not a great way to break the ice. The next day, she stops by to give him a music CD she made for him. This leads to one of the most bizarre scenes in the film. She invites herself inside his house, and starts wondering in every room upstairs and down, usually asking “What's in there?” before she barges on in. You'd figure he'd be a little annoyed by her invading his house like that, but instead, he opens up to her about his murderous little sister, and how her psychotic behavior was attributed to her getting brain damage after falling off the swing set.
He acts very suspicious as he tells her the story. The guy, in fact, is so obviously harboring a dark secret that it's amazing it takes Elissa the entire film before she figures it out. The way she figures it out only brings credence to what I said about her being a total idiot. She races to his place in the dead of night to stop some of the local teens from burning down his house. She douses their flame, and later finds an empty box of tampons in his trash can. A sinister development: Men who live alone don't usually buy tampons. She then begins to wander through the house, in the dark, either to find the woman who exhausted the supply, or to not find a woman, and discover that Ryan may be suffering from a gender identity crisis.
House at the End of the Street takes place in one of those small towns only found in the movies. The local high school looks to have a total of twelves students enrolled and absolutely no teachers to speak of. And there seems to be only one active police officer in town, played by Gil Bellows. That would explain why during the film's lame “killer-in-the-house” climax, he charges into danger with his gun drawn when he should have radioed for back-up. That would also explain why he doesn't bother investigating an apparent crime spree that is connected with the film's central mystery (though it's almost impossible to accept that the local townsfolk have managed to overlook it). He is the only cop in town. He can't do everything.
The movie is an unholy mess from start to finish. Director Mark Tonderai brings an agonizing visual polish to the material, relying on strobe lights, flash frames, excessive close-ups, and a camera that seems unable to sit still for a second. Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue are both lovely and talented actresses, and will no doubt survive this unfortunate misstep in their career. To be fair to them, they do have one semi-convincing scene together. Sarah, like the other townspeople, is distrusting of Ryan, and doesn't like it that Elissa has taken such an interest in him. She invites him over for dinner one night in a sincere attempt to try and get to know the guy her daughter seems to fancy so much. After talking with him, she ends up guzzling a full bottle of wine, and before desert too.
If there is one aspect about the film that is unique, it's its trailer. Near the end of the trailer, when the title appears, we see it abbreviated into the word “hates.” It's kind of neat, that the title of the film would be abbreviated into a word that aptly describes my feelings for it.
Final Grade: 1/2 * (out of ****)