The Psycho of Abuse
House at the End of the Street (2012)
Jennifer Lawrence has wasted no time parlaying her Oscar nod from indie darling “Winter’s Bone” to land roles in Hollywood blockbusters like “X-Men: First Class” and “The Hunger Games.” But striking while the iron is hot hasn’t boded well for the careers of many an actress with similar prospects. Like, what’s Elisabeth Shue been up to lately? Oh, she’s been in “Piranha 3D” and some teen horror flick called “House at the End of the Street,” which also stars … none other than Ms. Lawrence! We are happy to report, though, that this isn’t some sort of karmic and prophetic cautionary tale about the Oscar curse, because “House at the End of the Street” actually turns out to be kind of decent.
It could have been much better, but it certainly isn’t awful like all those run-of-the-mill Kevin Williamson knockoffs in the late ’90s. Not that you would be able to tell by its premise, though: Teenage Elissa (Ms. Lawrence) and her bitter divorcée mom Sarah (Ms. Shue) move in next door to a reputedly empty house where a demented girl once bludgeoned her parents to death some years ago and then went missing. In fact, early proceedings might have you convinced that the film is worse than you expected because screenwriter David Loucka seems to be showing his hand way too early. The real-estate agent neglects to caution Sarah and Elissa that a son who survived the massacre, Ryan (Max Thieriot), actually lives in the allegedly vacant house — and unbeknownst to everyone, he keeps his killer sister locked up in the basement. Thankfully, much of this is merely a red herring. Since this is one of the first reviews of the film, it would be unfair to spoil it any further.
“House at the End of the Street” is so thoroughly unpredictable that it will even have you actively rooting for the villain and against the victims at one point. Crazy, right? The intricate plot may leave you thoroughly confused if you’ve been busy whispering back and forth with your companion. Hitchcock was clearly the inspiration here, although Mr. Loucka really should have borrowed a little from Mr. Williamson in terms of how “I Know What You Did Last Summer” dealt with teen social dynamics and small-town dread. Director Mark Tonderai’s music-video aesthetics don’t do this script any service either. The film is a good way to blow off a couple of hours, but in the hands of someone like Brian De Palma it might have been mind-blowing. As far as Ms. Lawrence’s career is concerned, this is most certainly not a choice she’ll be embarrassed about.