It seems no young actress’s career is complete until she has donned the white t-shirt of a horror movie heroine. For most actresses, this tends to come before they break out into better roles but for Jennifer Lawrence, who found massive acclaim and an Oscar nomination for her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone and has a slew of impressive performances behind her already, it’s strange to find her in such limited material as House at the End of the Street.
Lawrence plays Elissa, a high school student who, after her parents divorce, has moved to a new neighbourhood with her mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) for a fresh start. They manage to snag a great deal on a big house in a great neighbourhood, but why is such a perfect home so cheap? A horrible tragedy struck the family who lived next door, driving property prices down in the area.
The house is currently occupied by Ryan (Max Theriot), a diffident loner clearly damaged by the horrible events that befell his family while he was staying upstate with his elderly aunt. Against her mother’s wishes, and seemingly that of the whole town, Elissa begins a gentle relationship with the sensitive yet slightly creepy Ryan.
The biggest positive that can be said about the film is that it is refreshingly free of torture porn bloodletting which might seem toothless but it’s a welcome change from the recent norm. Unfortunately, the script from David Loucka is an erratic mess that director Mark Tonderai seems incapable of injecting with any real style or visual creativity, instead favouring the typical shaky cam and burnt-out visuals that are so common place in modern horror.
The story shifts and changes a number of times, the first twist veering into potentially interesting territory but leads to some unintentionally funny scenes before ultimately being undone by the next twist. The film threatens to turn into a more intriguing, Straw Dogs-esque movie at the start of the third act but scraps that right away and descends into a patchy, generic ending that isn’t hard to figure out from the very first frames of the movie.
In a year that Lawrence headlined one of the biggest films of the year (The Hunger Games) and will no doubt earn her second Oscar nod for The Silver Linings Playbook, this film seems a strange addition to her CV. That said, Lawrence is the only thing that really holds the film together, giving as good a performance as could be expected considering some of the clunky dialogue she’s handed.
The rest of the cast are less game but it’s hard to blame them when their characters are just a collection of horror movie archetypes from Elisabeth Shue’s caring but flawed mother to Gil Bellows potential red herring local cop.
In a year where horror movies have tried to branch out, though largely unsuccessfully – Cabin in the Woods’ attempted genre skewering laughs, Silent House’s supposed one-shot gimmick – The House at the End of the Street seems all the more bland. Barring Lawrence’s efforts in the lead role, the film is a messy, overlong dud that will be a forgotten footnote in her flourishing career.