‘House at the End of the Street’ talks big game, delivers cheap thrills

By Emily Brightman

Facebook

Director Mark Tonderai’s new film “House at the End of the Street” generated a buzz in the social media world before its release, but the movie itself failed to live up to the hype.

Single mother Sarah Cassidy (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) move from Chicago to rural Pennsylvania seeking a fresh start. But the dreaminess of their new home soon fades when they learn of the grisly murders that took place in the house next door – a young girl took an axe to both her parents and then disappeared, leaving behind brother Ryan (Max Thieriot), who still resides in the house. Against her mother’s wishes, Elissa and withdrawn Ryan form a bond that goes steadily sour when Elissa learns the savage secret that Ryan has been keeping locked in the basement.

The film meets the standards of a typical horror flick – dramatic lighting, sweeping camera angles to denote drama and an attractive young woman as the main character – but in all other aspects, there is nothing very scary about this movie. Relying primarily on shock value rather than legitimate scares, “House at the End of the Street” delivers cheap thrills in a context that is unoriginal and repetitive. Though the heavy contrast between light and dark in the cinematography makes for a melodramatic viewing experience, there is not much in the way of ambiance or creativity in this film. Even the unveiling of the “unexpected” plot twist, oftentimes the one aspect that can save a bad movie, was poorly executed and the film ends on a highly confusing note. “House on the End of the Street” tries a little too hard to be an innovative thriller and comes off as a failed attempt at ambient situational horror.

Screenwriters David Loucka and Johnathan Mostow borrowed heavily from the mechanics of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to round out their film – the killer loses a loved one and, emotionally unable to cope with the loss, seeks a surrogate to replace their deceased beloved. In the film, killer Ryan mentally cannot choose between having a girlfriend and keeping the memory of his dead sister alive so he kidnaps young women and dresses them up like his sister, locking them in his basement and pretending to care for them as he did his sister. Norman Bates in “Psycho” has a similar game, except it is his mother who dies and he who dresses up as her to kill potential girlfriends. The recognition of these similarities adds to the overall disappointment of “House on the End of the Street” because it further proves the unoriginal nature of the film.

More disappointing than the unimaginative plot is the dreadful acting. Lawrence’s performance is flat and unconvincing as she plods dispassionately through her turn as teenaged Elissa, giving absolutely no depth to her character even in more climactic scenes. In contrast with her shining performance in “The Hunger Games” earlier this year, Lawrence’s presentation is disappointing and leaves much to be desired. Even veteran actress Shue is depressingly boring as Elissa’s harried mother, though she looks as if she hasn’t aged a day since her role in “Adventures in Babysitting.” The only saving grace in this movie’s cast is Thieriot as Ryan, brother of the homicidal youngster, who is just deadpan enough to give the appearance of a true psychopath without being overly prosaic. A cast this admirable should give a more electrifying performance, but sadly the actors are overshadowed by the film’s shortcomings in consistency and depth.

Overall, “House on the End of the Street” perfectly follows the worn out formula of a “don’t go into the basement” thriller, but proves to be a real let-down for die hard horror fans. This movie borrows so liberally from other classic thrillers that it overwhelms itself and is ultimately forgettable. It’s certainly not the worst horror flick to have come out this year but nowhere near the best.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]