Monday, September 24, 2012
What was “Hunger Games” actress Jennifer Lawrence thinking when she signed on to star in the lightweight but bizarre chick flick horror chiller “House at the End of the Street?” Perhaps Jennifer’s agent convinced her to make it to keep her busy while the producers of both “The Hunger Games” and “The X-Men” were preparing their next sequels. Indeed, anybody could have played the character of Elissa. A year or two ago this would have been a plum role for Amanda Seyfried. Although she brings her good looks and charisma to the character of Elissa, Lawrence looks like she is biding time with this above-average, atmospheric potboiler. Meantime, Elizabeth Shue, cast as her mom, and Max Thieriot, cast as a troubled young man, look like they were born to play their roles. The rest of the cast is believable, especially Gil Bellows as a small-town cop, Nolan Gerald Funk as a despicable high school playboy, and Allie MacDonald as our heroine’s closest high school friend. Incidentally, “House at the End of the Street” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) has nothing to do with either the Jodie Foster epic “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane” or director Ruggero Deodato’s grisly Italian-made movie “The House on the Edge of the Park.”
“Hush” director Mark Tonderai must have been channeling Alfred Hitchcock as well as Wes Craven when “Dream House” scripter David Loucka and he made this movie about suspicious characters in a rustic setting. Indeed, a little bit of Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho” creeps into this edgy offering. Similarly, the choices made the heroine evokes memories of the Wes Craven movie “The People Under the Stairs.” Like most horror movies, the filmmakers play head games with the audience during the first hour before they shoot the works. You never really know what is occurring in this surprising, often disorienting saga, even when you think you know what is happening. Happily, “House at the End of the Street” isn’t the kind of scary movie that will curse you with nightmares, much less throttle your throat with icy fingers of tension while you’re watching it. Tonderai’s film won’t have you either chewing your nails or squirming in your seat until Ms. Lawrence is tied down to a chair in the last half hour of the action. Everything that occurs before those scenes is basically warm-up material. You won’t find a scene-stealing, sadistic, maniac like a Freddie, Jason, or Michael Myers here because the killer doesn't don a disguise and mutated into a full-blown killer.
An ugly divorce prompts Dr. Sarah Cassidy (Elizabeth Shue of “Adventures in Babysitting”) and teenage daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) to move into a house that they might not otherwise have been able to afford had a murder not occurred at a nearby residence. It seems that an insane child slaughtered her parents one stormy night. The authorities searched for the murderous girl afterward but never found her. Word spread that the daughter had drowned in a nearby dam. Naturally, this unsettling murder lowered property values, and Sarah discovers that she can afford the house. Sarah had a history as a slut when she was a teen so she is ever vigilant where Elissa is concerned. Initially, neither Sarah nor Elissa knew that anybody was living in the house where the murders occurred. As it turns out, their backdoor neighbor is a quiet, well-mannered, but reclusive young fellow named Ryan. You see, Ryan was the son of the parents who died at the hands of their daughter. Ryan wasn’t living with them at the time of the murder. Since his parents left him the house as well as enough money for him to attend a community college, Ryan has been living there and trying to avoid the neighbors.
Meantime, Elissa attends a party at another neighbor’s house. A popular high school jock, Tyler (Nolan Gerard Funk of “Bereavement”), is the son of these neighbors, and they tout his civil-minded exploits at school. In reality, Tyler is a loathsome reprobate. During the party, Tyler tries to persuade a reluctant Elissa to have sex with him. Elissa storms out of the party and walks home. A storm erupts while she is walking, and Ryan pulls up in his car. He offers Elissa a ride, but she refuses to accept his offer. Moments later, the bottom drops out, and Elissa changes her mind. Afterward, they become close friends, much to the chagrin of Elissa’s mother. An uneasy Sarah establishes ground rules for them during dinner one evening. Ryan and Elissa cannot be together alone. Ryan is willing to abide by these strict rules, but Elissa hates her mom for embarrassing her in front of Ryan. Elissa reminds Sarah that she is not a slut. Shrewdly, Elissa programs the family telephone so when mom calls, the call is forwarded to Elissa’s cell phone. Sarah often has to work late shifts at the hospital. This way Elissa can visit Ryan without Sarah’s interference.
Discretion prevents me from divulging some suspicious things that are happening at Ryan’s house. Suffice to say, despite his sympathetic demeanor, Ryan is not entirely who he appears to be. Nevertheless, Elissa likes him, and her mom warns her that she—Elissa—is the kind of girl who tries to mend other people. In other words, she tries to make them better. Nobody in the town trusts Ryan, except an affable policeman, Bill Weaver (Gil Bellows), who stands up for the misunderstood youth. By this time, Tonderai and his writer start making the characters behave idiotically, and “House at the End of the Street” turns into a video rental. When the revelations come, the source of all the evil turns out to be the parents. Interestingly enough, our heroine finds herself up to her neck in trouble when she allows her curiosity to get the best of her. While the villain isn’t as homicidal as Norman Bates was in “Psycho,” he turns out to be a far more interesting character than our valiant heroine.