Is it fair to call out a movie for being terrible when all signs point toward it being horrible beforehand? The only thing that The House at the End of the Street had going in its favor before its release was the main star, Jennifer Lawrence, a young actress who has become a major talent to watch since her Academy Award nominated turn in Winters Bone who became a household name this year with The Hunger Games. Even her name being at the top of the poster didn’t stop this film from being pushed back to a near-Halloween release date. So the question remains: how high should the audience expectations be walking in?
Lawrence stars as Elissa Cassidy, a 17 year old high school student, recently transplanted with her single mother (played by the sorely missed Elisabeth Shue) to what seems to be rural Pennsylvania from Chicago. They move into a beautiful two story house on a wooded lot next to what is the local’s version of the Amityville Horror home. Years ago, a young mentally challenged girl brutally murdered her parents and fled into the neighboring woods, never to be seen again. Elissa soon strikes up a romantic relationship with the only surviving member of the family, Ryan (Max Thieriot), because that always works out so well in these types of films.
As mentioned above, we are dealing with a horror film here, one that is not attempting to reinvent the wheel, so how fair is it to really hammer it for inefficiencies? Potential customers that watch the trailers for this movie and think, “Oh, I want to see that,” probably aren’t expecting what would be normally classified as a “good” film, so am I doing the critical equivalent of pulling the wings off of a fly by pointing out that it reeks of amateur hour?
For those of you that actually care to only drop your cash on good films, this is a horrible movie. It’s actually kind of funny, because with many bad films, you can point toward a creative moment or two in the script and say, “Oh, the director must be the one at fault,” or find a few clever camera shots during the running time of the flick and think that the film was sunk by a stinky screenplay. Here, it is clear that no gave two craps about putting a worthwhile effort into the product. It has been said many times that no one realizes while making a movie that they are making a bomb; after viewing this, I find that hard to believe.
Let’s start with the director; Mark Tonderai is a newcomer who has only made one other film, a Duel ripoff named Hush that no one has ever seen and no one should ever search for. There are shots in this film that make absolutely no sense at all. The seasoned actors (Lawrence, Shue, and a decent Gil Bellows) manage to somehow rise above the nonsense asked of them by the creative team that they are working with here, but the other talent doesn’t fare as well. There is a scene involving a neighborhood barbecue where, when the “Jacobs house” is mentioned, everyone there literally does a double take. I can only assume there wasn’t room in the budget to hire a DJ to perform at the party, just so we could get a record scratch as well. As talented as Lawrence is, her character is still called on to play one of the most uncouth, stupid 17 year olds ever filmed; yes, if I was a young boy, I would put up with it as well, but still…
The script…god, this script. Basically, it boils down to a pinch of the first Nightmare on Elm Street, the first Friday the 13th, and Psycho. You have townspeople not only openly talking about burning down someone’s home just to raise property values in the area, at a certain point in the film a group of kids actually attempt to do this for an even worse reason. Then you have the whole “this child killed these people, ran off, and was never seen again,” which only made me hope that once the killer appeared, they would at least wear a hockey mask or, for the truly old-school, a pillowcase.
Some films make you happy to have lived during such a time that could produce the marvels that you just watched; others fill your body with sadness. My soul is covered in spider webs thanks to The House at the End of the Street.