'House at the End of the Street: We've Been Down This 'Street' Before
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Let's give credit where it's due: despite having a title that gives off the very authentic ring of a 1970s grindhouse slab of exploitation, "House At The End Of The Street" is not a remake, and its evocative title has not been used for any kind of differently plotted horror film. That may be the only, or at the very least most, original thing about the movie. But originality, or lack thereof, isn't really the movie's problem. Execution is.
Bing: More about Elisabeth Shue | More on Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by Mark Tonderai from a script by David Louka, "House" stars "Hunger Games" phenom Jennifer Lawrence (whose newfound stardom seems not to have brought her much in the way of great-project-choosing clout) as a teen whose single mom (Elisabeth Shue) has moved them into a big rural home right next door to a joint where, according to local suburban legend, a young girl bludgeoned her parents to death. The house is supposed to be deserted, but soon enough we learn that the college-age scion of the slaughtered family is living there, and he's a moon-eyed sensitive fellow who of course Lawrence's character, a songstress and girl of compassion, soon falls for.
But wait! Moon-eyed fellow (Max Thieriot) has a secret: his developmentally disabled homicidal little sis isn't dead after all! He's hidden her away in a subbasement where he takes care of her 'cause he's all guilty and stuff. Only problem is he sucks at home security, so sis keeps getting out of the house and scaring the willies out of necking-in-the-woods locals. This builds to an, um, plot "twist" which, while indeed momentarily disarming, will eventually surprise no one who's seen, say, any Hammer Studios ripoffs of a certain film by a reputed Master of Suspense ...
I realize the above constitute spoilers...to the old people reading this who are likely not the movie's target demo anyway. The younger crowd this picture's aimed at may for the most part have no idea what I'm talking about. But as I said, originality, or lack thereof, is not the issue for this movie. While director Tonderai has clearly studied the various effects of great horror directors (rack focus on a reflective surface, very early Polanski; a camera scurrying from a side window of a house to over and around a rooftop, nice lift from Dario Argento's "Tenebre," and so on), he seems to have never bothered to learn how to use effects in the service of building a scene, and as a result too many of the suspense sequences split the difference between purposefully drawn-out and pointlessly interminable. Scripter Louka's dialogue is no help: at one point night-shift-working medico mom Shue rationalizes to Lawrence, "The late shift's kinda tough, but I like being in the hospital; I like the drama." Um, sure thing. Later Lawrence complains to a gal pal "She still treats me as if I'm a child" and gal pal commiserates, "That's lame." Right on. The rest is not silence but rather a lot of panting as poor Lawrence runs from danger in a sleeveless t-shirt, looking as if she's been freshly misted with Special Hotness Glisten for every take. My inner dirty old man, then, had a better time than my inner horror fan. But, honestly, not that much better.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film
critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various
publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He
lives in Brooklyn.