Movie Review by
Barry Lee Dejasu

The Premise
Late one night, a very disturbed girl savagely offs her mother and father before running off into the woods.

Several years later, a mother named Sarah (Elizabeth Shue) and her teenage daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), move into the neighborhood.  All seems well, even idyllic, until one night, when Sarah notices that the lights are on in the otherwise-allegedly-vacant house next door.  Now, Sarah had gotten a deal on her own house because of the murders; however, it also turns out that the murder house still has one resident, and that’s the teen son of the dead couple, Ryan (Max Thieriot).

Ryan is very shy, but friendly, and Elissa makes friends with him after he picks her up on a rainy night after she’d walked out on a drunken party with some of her schoolmates.  Soon, the two form an offbeat friendship, hinting at romance.

Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and Ryan (Max Thieriot) strike up a friendship in HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET.

Meanwhile, there are rumors abound in the town, with some of Elissa’s peers snickering about Carrie-Anne, Ryan’s missing murderous sister, still living in the woods.  These rumors are enough for Sarah to want to keep her daughter away from trouble—and thus, away from Ryan.  Elissa won’t hear of this, however, and finds ways to continue to see him.

The events of the past are not quite over, however…and Ryan may know more about them than he’s been letting on.

The Reaction
Not long after our introduction to Ryan, he is shown preparing a canned-noodle dinner and bringing it down to the basement of his house…where a hidden trapdoor leads to a secret hallway…at the end of which is a locked door…and inside, Carrie-Anne is very much alive, and every bit as crazy as the murderous rage at the beginning had hinted at.

When I saw this, I felt like the film was showing all its cards far too soon; I found myself cringing like a parent watching their kid saying the wrong line in a stage play.  So many movies have the audience gasp at the Big Reveal of a villain, only…none of the protagonists in the movie get to know this until later on, and so by the time they find out, we’re way ahead of them.  This kind of too-much-too-soon formula can really hurt a plot, especially if it’s a suspense tale.

And yet, in this case, I think it worked, for the most part.

Jennifer Lawrence singing.

For one thing, without this and related scenes, more time would be spent in the “calmer side” of the film, with the drama of Sarah and Elissa and Ryan taking up most of the plot, and only a couple of key scenes would bring Carrie-Anne into the filmic conversation, making Ryan very quickly seem suspicious of knowing more about her than he’s saying.  Instead, the film presents this hidden plot right from the get-go, so we, the audience, have nothing left to suspect—and thus, we have no idea of just where the plot is headed.  It also helps set up for those later Carrie-Anne sequences—we know what she’s capable of, and so we’re doubly-alert to how much tension could be created if and when she’s pitted against the protagonists, rather than if she’d just appeared out of nowhere (and again, in a more predictable setup).

And there’s something else that worked really well (for a while, at least) with showing Ryan’s relationship to Carrie-Anne: he still cares for her.  He has to restrain her (asking her why she has to have such a frenzied reaction every time he opens the door), and he’s feeding her, and doing his best to keep her well…but she’s clearly a very disturbed person.  This scene brings an unexpected slice of drama and characterization to an otherwise straight-horror movie, and I found it to be really a rather effective.

This surprisingly emotional element continues directly with Ryan’s interactions with Elissa, as he slowly opens up to about his life, and his sister (and just what made her so crazy).  It’s clear that he never has anybody to talk to about this, due to the rumor-driven estrangement he gets from the locals and his own quiet nature, and it made his and her characters far more sympathetic than they otherwise could have been.

From a filmmaking perspective, the movie is full of strong personnel both in front of and behind the camera, with the three leads turning in equally effective performances.  Jennifer Lawrence continues to show solid acting chops (although this was actually filmed before THE HUNGER GAMES), and also gets a couple of scenes in which she shows some promise as a singer.  Elizabeth Shue is particularly welcome here, turning what could have been (but unfortunately, at times still was) a doting, overprotective mother into someone with charm and likeability.  Max Theiriot has been a slow burn in movies, but he’s a good actor, and always gives each performance 100%, and for his role as Ryan, he does very well.

The tension builds in the final third.

In addition to more typical cinematic photography, this film has a number of scenes awash in hallucinogenic, disorienting photography, especially in Carrie-Anne’s scenes.   The musical score, by Theo Green (who also worked on the film’s special visual effects), was particularly noteworthy, staying constantly in the background as an ever-changing, amorphous pulse of sounds both orchestrated and electronic, making for some truly engaging moments during some of the more emotional, as well as suspenseful, scenes.  And with Mark Tonderai’s (HUSH, 2008) tight and intimate (and at times claustrophobic), direction, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET was very atmospheric as well as tense.   (And to its credit, it wasn’t even filmed nor post-converted into 3D!)

With all of these strengths at work, I found myself sitting up in my seat near the middle of the movie, thinking to myself, “This is different.  This is not at all like what the previews make it out to be.”  And for the most part, I was right.

What left me less-than-wowed were the events that unfolded in the final third of the film.  Without giving away details, I’ll just say that a couple of background characters very randomly perform some heavy-handed behavior, which leads to a rushed scene of exposition and somewhat out-of-character nosiness.  Further (and even more abrupt) changes in character behavior occur, and as a result, the movie was very quickly layered with cliché upon predictable-horror-movie cliché, which was really unfortunate, given the otherwise fairly strong buildup.  (The final note of the movie is also particularly ill-advised, and comes across as a rather cheap rip-off of…well, if you see it, you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.)

Yes, this movie had its share of problems, but did I hate it?  Not at all.  In fact, I can’t blame the movie for its faults, for as I was watching these problems unfold, I thought to myself, “It’s like someone else took over the script halfway through the production!”  As it turns out, that is almost exactly what had happened.

A Back Story
As far back as 2003, Jonathan Mostow(BREAKDOWN, U-571) had been working on the script for HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET along with Richard Kelly (DONNIE DARKO), taking some inspiration taken from a 1973 film starring Bette Davis called SCREAM, PRETTY PEGGY.

Before production began, the studio, Relativity Media, wished for a rewrite of Mostow’s script, and they hired David Loucka for the task.  Loucka ultimately received the writing credit, with only a nod to Mostow for the “story.”  (Interestingly enough, Loucka had also been hired to rewrite Jim Sheridan’s script for the 2011 film DREAM HOUSE, which was ultimately a critical and box-office failure.)

Looking back, it was easy to see how HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET was so uneven.  This isn’t to say it was bad, either—rather, so many of its better elements managed to make the final cut, resulting in two-thirds of a solid film.

Final Thoughts
The problems with this movie are not its own, but rather, that of the studio.  The actors gave their all, making for some genuinely effective performances. Mark Tonderai, Theo Green and everyone else in the production took what they were given and made the best of it. And ultimately, we wind up with two-thirds of a solid film.  One can only hope that someday, some kind of director’s cut may surface.

© Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Barry Lee Dejasu gives HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET~ two and a half knives (out of 5).


One Response to “HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)”

  1. When I saw the film, I was impressed that Ryan seemed normal and misunderstood, and I liked Elissa befriending him – I thought there was going to be a more supernatural element (like del Toro’s MAMA), and was actually disappointed with the reveal and “twist” which borrowed heavily from a well-known film we’ll not name here… Too bad – and how many writers have had meticulous, well thought out stories/scripts screwed up by hamfisted rewrites? Tsk tsk.

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