Appellate Judge Tom Becker's house is at the end of the street, but his heart is in the highlands.
Fear thy neighbor.
Having starred in one of the most successful films of the year—The Hunger Games—and one of the best reviewed—Silver Linings Playbook—it's easy to forget that Jennifer Lawrence had a third film released in 2012, a modest thriller that premiered in late September, garnered wretched reviews, turned a tidy profit, and then disappeared.
That film is called House at the End of the Street, and if you have, in fact, forgotten it, I suspect that even Jennifer Lawrence won't hold it against you; in fact, she might prefer it. Despite the presence of the twice Oscar-nominated actress (Winter's Bone, Silver Linings Playbook) playing the daughter of another Oscar-nominated actress (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas), House at the End of the Street is a turgid and corny mess; without Jennifer Lawrence's name-value, this would likely have gone straight to home video.
Elissa (Lawrence) and her mom, Sarah (Shue) move into a nice house in an upscale neighborhood. Unfortunately, right next door—well, through a patch of well-worn woods, actually—is a "murder house." Every upscale thriller-movie neighborhood has one.
The murder in question took place four years prior when Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson were head-hammered by their crazy daughter, Carrie Anne. After this burst of bloodshed, Carrie Anne ran into the woods and was presumably drowned in a nearby stream—"presumably" because her body was never found, suggesting that the local stream is the size of the Amazon.
The house is now occupied by their 20-ish son, Ryan (Max Thieriot, Chloe). He's a nice-looking, sensitive, good-hearted young man whose life has been irrevocably altered by unimaginable tragedy, and the neighbors have opened their arms to him, making him feel welcome, secure, and protected, like their own children.
Wait, no they haven't. This is Movie Suburbia, so of course, the neighbors are shallow, greedy pigs who want the house torn down because its history has lowered property values; you half expect them to get tanked up at a barbecue and march on the place carrying torches and pick-axes.
Elissa tries to get in with cool kids at school and finds them to be obnoxious, entitled, drunken boors. Then she meets Ryan, who's a little odd, but his hunkiness compensates for any character flaws.
But, since this isn't an Afterschool Special about accepting people even when your peers don't, we learn soon enough that Ryan has a little secret. Of course, if you pay attention to the film's first 15 or so minutes—or, if you're old enough to shave—the "big reveal" will come as no surprise to you.
But wait! Stick around! Just when you think House at the End of the Street is a tedious, lamely plotted, poorly paced, forgettable thriller with a predictable plot twist, everything gets upended, and suddenly, the film becomes: a tedious, lamely plotted, poorly paced, forgettable thriller with a hopelessly inane plot twist.
In order to hit a "gotcha!" point, and I guess, distinguish itself from all the other silly, predictable thrillers out there, writer David Loucka (The Dream Team) and director Mark Tonderai give us a plot twist that defies expectations; it also defies reason, logic, common sense, hallucination, and the Theory of Relativity. If this kind of crazy had powered the whole movie, then House at the End of the Street would have been a jaw-dropping paean to exploitation. Unfortunately, the mood for the most part is more somber and standard than the William Castle Does Looney Tunes business we get at the end, so when it's time to really separate the fruit from the nuts, we're past the point of caring.
The whole thing is just so dragged out, as if Tonderai figured this was the only chance he'd have to make a movie sporting "Two Oscar Nominees," and he simply couldn't see it end. We get scene after scene of Lawrence and Shue bickering and bringing up past troubles, like a mother-daughter relationship drama. Only it's not a mother-daughter relationship drama, it's a tacky, PG-13 rated thriller, and most of their mutual sniping has little to do with the titular house. Despite the mediocre writing, the actresses' intelligence and vulnerability occasionally squeak through, but it's a struggle—like that tiny man-fly at the end of The Fly (1958) screaming "Helllp Meee" in the spider web kind of struggle.
There are a few worthwhile jump scares, and the value of these should not be underestimated; of course, you can replicate the jump scare-experience by closing your eyes and asking someone to throw a cat on you. Frankly, if the film was about 20 minutes shorter and focused on jump scares rather than the not-very-interesting interactions of Lawrence and Shue, it might have been a silly, guilty pleasure; instead, it just ends up being silly and guilty.
Fox puts out a nice looking disc for House at the End of the Street (Blu-ray), with a solid 1080p image and perfectly fine audio track. The disc contains both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, though there's little difference; this is PG-13 all the way. The lone supplement of note is a "making of" featurette; there's also a trailer, plus a DVD and digital download option.
At one point, during a silly scene of manufactured horror, Lawrence, in tight close up, looks at the camera with tear-filled eyes and says, "No!"
I felt her pain. Not because of the indignity her character was about to endure, but because of the indignity the actress had been forced to endure by signing up for this draggy, low-grade thriller.
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