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Review: House at the End of the Street (2012)

House at the End of the Street (2012)

Directed by: Mark Tonderai

Premise: A high school student (Jennifer Lawrence) and her mother (Elisabeth Shue) move into a new home in the country and find that their neighbor is a mysterious young man with a secret.

What Works: The one credit to House at the End of the Street is that as a horror picture its makers attempt to do something challenging within the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. Despite the impression given by the trailers and other promotional materials, it is made clear in the opening of the film that this isn’t a paranormal picture and that comes as something of a relief. The picture has some underlying themes and ideas that are compelling and it’s a shame that they aren’t done better.

What Doesn’t: House at the End of the Street is the latest in the trend of domestic horror films, in which families move into new homes and find their lives turned upside down by evil spirits or other terrors. The formula was tired upon arrival; it wasn’t exactly new and had been done better thirty years ago in Poltergeist and The Stepfather. A few of the more recent films of this type like Orphan and Paranormal Activity at least demonstrated some flair in conception and competence in execution but House at the End of the Street is clumsily made and it is never scary. Viewers will recognize much of House at the End of the Street from other movies. Several plot beats and sequences are lifted directly from Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs but this isn’t homage; it is just lazy filmmaking. The story is intended to be a mystery but the filmmakers inexplicably forget that a mystery requires things to actually be mysterious. House at the End of Street gets off to a bad start by giving up the film’s secret early on and spoiling the possibility of a shocking reveal later in the picture. This ruins the rest of the film; when the audience is ahead, all they can do is sit and wait for the protagonist to catch up with them and that makes the duration of the film boring. There is a possibility that the film could let the secret go in the opening and still be successful if it managed to build tension through smart filmmaking and compelling characters but House at the End of Street is ineptly produced. Director Mark Tonderai cannot set up and execute a coherent scene and the picture is terribly shot with a lot of bad decisions in blocking the action and framing the subjects. The camera is often set up at strange angles that obscure the action and a lot of the camera moves and editing are jittery and distracting. The core cast of House at the End of the Street are talented actors, including Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot, and Elisabeth Shue, but they are trapped in a terrible script. The characters are stupid and one dimensional but they are also awful human beings who are nasty to one another for no apparent reason. The dialogue is awful and the characters make decisions and declarations that are unmotivated and out of character. The screenwriters operate under the assumption apparently widespread in horror filmmaking that making the protagonist a child of divorce automatically counts as character development. It doesn’t and tensions between characters are introduced but never dramatized or resolved.

Bottom Line: House at the End of the Street is an underachieving movie with an overqualified cast. This is a tedious film with a ridiculous premise that is sloppily made and isn’t scary.

Episode: #407 (September 30, 2012)