House at the End of the Street (2012)
★ / ★★★★
Hoping that a life away from the city will bring them closer together, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) decides to move to the suburbs with her daughter, Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence). They rent a very spacious home for a great price, but it is only several yards away from a house where a girl named Carrie Anne is said to have murdered her mother and father four years ago. The house is now occupied by Ryan (Max Thieriot), the son who happened to be away at the time the killings occurred. The neighbors want him out of their town, but Elissa gets the chance to meet him one night after a party and discovers that he might not be as bad as the rumors make him out to be.
It is most disappointing that “House at the End of the Street,” directed by Mark Tonderai, turns out to be an exercise in confusion because its lead actors, Lawrence and Thieriot, are attractive and at times manage to share good chemistry. It takes too long to get its gears running and when it finally does, the result is underwhelming not only because genuine thrills are lacking, it lies in front of our faces for the sake of pulling a would-be interesting twist late in the narrative.
At times the picture feels as though it might have been better off as a drama. Shue and Lawrence seem game in playing a mother and daughter who do not have a deep relationship but are trying. Their exchanges, though simple, have occasional punches that can hurt. For instance, we feel Elissa flinch internally when her mother tries too hard to force herself to wear the shoes of a mother who is always available. Her idea of being there is being protective and constantly checking up on her daughter. It is easy to imagine how Elissa reacts to the coddling when she feels–and we can see–that the attempts are forced. Unfortunately, the screenplay is not a drama. Although it helps to have an understanding of the characters, the mystery and thrills should be at the forefront. There are long periods of time where we are left wondering what central conflict propels the material forward.
The conflict, if one decides to call it that, is lacking meat on its bones. We meet Tyler (Nolan Gerard Funk), the honor student who may not be as innocent as his perfect grades suggest; the neighbors who reek of prejudice; a police officer (Gil Bellows) who Sarah finds attractive; and others who enter and exit the picture to buy time. In the meantime, the romance between Elissa and Ryan blossoms. The threads are introduced but they remain separate with only a strand of hair connecting them temporarily for the convenience of the plot. It feels deathly slow, a bore, to watch all of the pieces march to the inevitable sequences involving Elissa trying to escape and defend herself in the dark.
The writers, David Loucka and Jonathan Mostow, are responsible for the so-called twist in the third act. Instead of using conscientious sleight of hand to create a convincing trick, the script employs a lie that relates to the first scene which left a disgusting flavor on my palate. It is laziness and is a conscious act of stealing our time. The writers should be ashamed because they spit upon the story that they supposedly wish to tell.
The writers fail to respect the audience. It is always personal when someone insults your intelligence and thinks that he or she can get away with it.