Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
September 2012

House at the End of the Street

Dead end

'House at the End of the Street' is the assembly-line horror flick Jennifer Lawrence will never have to say yes to again

House at the End of the Street
Relativity Media
Director: Mark Tonderai
Screenplay: David Loucka
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Theriot, Elisabeth Shue, Gil Bellows, Eva Link and Nolan Gerard Funk
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 41 minutes
Opened September 21, 2012
(out of four)

Frankly, I don't know what I'm meant to gather from the final 10 seconds of House at the End of the Street. All I know is that it's a reveal of one sort or another. I see three possible interpretations and I'm leaning toward one of them. The most literal interpretation of the scene makes no sense whatsoever, so I'm inclined to disregard it. In any case, I just don't know - which may be the kind of ambiguity the movie is going for (doubtful) or it could just be sloppy filmmaking (likely).

But here's the important part: It doesn't really matter what the film's denouement means. It functions only as a cheap last-second twist. We realize, after thinking it over for approximately two seconds, that any way you slice the ending, it would have been more interesting (and a lot more relevant) if said twist had been incorporated into the larger story, rather than thrown in at the end. This is what so many movies don't get - they're so eager for the last-second gotcha moment, they fail to realize how that moment could have been put to better use.

I suppose that's all I can really say without getting into too many details. So we'll leave it for now. Suffice it to say one key character is, in retrospect, far less intriguing than he or she should have been.

But enough about that. House at the End of the Street begins the way 97 percent of horror movies begin - with a family moving into a new house. (As a side note, as my mind wandered during the screening, I wondered exactly how many horror films contain the word "house" in the title - and, by contrast, how many non-horror movies do. But I digress.) Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) is a headstrong 17-year-old whose well-meaning mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue, still a stone-cold fox) is looking for a fresh start after a recent divorce.

Their new home is a perfect one, but they got a great deal on it because of dropping property values. No, that's not social commentary you detect - in fact, the neighborhood's value bottomed out after the grisly murder of a married couple at the hands of their young daughter, Carrie-Ann.

Lucky for Elissa and Sarah, the event occurred right next door. It's believed that Carrie-Ann drowned after running away the night of the murder, but her body was never found. Others insist she still lurks in the woods that surround the town. Hmmmm . . .

The sole survivor of that family is Ryan (Max Theriot), who moved back into the family's home after his parents' death and has been ostracized by the community ever since.

Until, that is, the new neighbors move in. Elissa, having proven herself far too mature for the rich phonies from the neighborhood, finds herself drawn more to Ryan - in spite of, or perhaps because of, his solitude and his pain. Elissa, you see, writes music and plays guitar. This makes her very deep and sensitive, as well as susceptible to complicated boys who are simply misunderstood.

Neither Elissa's mom nor her classmates seem to approve of this burgeoning flirtation with the kind, creepy, slightly older recluse. Only Elissa and the warm-hearted sheriff (Gil Bellows) seem willing to cut Ryan much slack. Whether Ryan ultimately deserves to be cut that slack is a different question altogether, but the movie makes sure to split it cleanly into two factions - the sensitive vs. the paranoid. Needless to say, the paranoid wind up kind of being right, although not necessarily in the ways they expect.

Director Mark Tonderai's attempts to create suspense wind up largely falling flat. He's an able hand behind the camera, but that's about the extent of it. House ends up looking and feeling like virtually every other mid-budget teen horror flick.

Lawrence, now a household name after taking the plum role of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise, is a major talent who's already got one well-deserved Oscar nomination and is likely to snag another later this year (for Silver Linings Playbook). As many, many before me have mentioned, every rising female star has her requisite bad horror flick, and now Lawrence's is out of the way. (One-hundred percent of House at the End of the Street reviews will mention this, so I figure I might as well keep the streak alive.) We hope, when it's an actress of genuine talent, that the horror movie in question will be the exception to the rule. Here, once again we are disappointed, though unsurprised. But at least we know her days of taking scripts like this one are (or at least should be) behind her.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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