The biggest surprise you’ll have in store for you watching Mark Tonderai’s sophomore effort House at the End of the Street is that it’s markedly better than the bland marketing campaign would have you believe (not to mention that delayed release date of five months). But utilizing two actresses that are better than this material, a decently written narrative, and, for the most part, expecting his audience (if not all the characters) to be slightly intelligent, you might be in for a weird little surprise at the mainstream multiplex. That said, there’s a tinge too many clichéd moments that should have been brushed up, excised or smoothed over to make this an extraordinary feature. Nevertheless, in a world where genre thrills are relatively few and far between, this one is worth a look.
Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), has recently moved to an upscale neighborhood with her recently divorced mother, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue). Elissa’s father was a rock musician, and she has aspirations of following in her father’s footsteps, though it seems he was absent from her life quite frequently. Sarah finds a job at the local hospital, but the only way they are able to afford renting their expensive new home is the fact that it’s next to a house where a 13 year old girl named Carrie Ann brutally murdered her parents four years prior, driving the property value down in the entire neighborhood. Sarah learns that her other neighbors are viciously bitter about this and confirm that the city would have torn down the house if it weren’t for college age boy, Ryan (Max Thierot), that resides alone in the house. He had been living out of state with an aunt when the tragedy happened.
Elissa becomes unnerved at the urban legend asserting that Carrie Ann, whose body was never found, lurks in the woods, but she soon meets the troubled young man and begins a tentative romance with him, much to the chagrin of her mother. While Sarah tries to find out about the young man’s history via her romance with the Sheriff (Gil Bellows), we find that, unbeknownst to everyone else, Ryan has his sister secretly locked up in the basement. Except, it seems she has ways of getting out of that basement and wreaking havoc. But the closer Elissa gets to Ryan, the more erratic things get, and there are other, more terrible secrets to be revealed.
While it wouldn’t be fair to say what films Tonderai borrows heavily from, since this might give away part of the satisfying twist, let’s just say that, while not completely original, House at the End of the Street manages to be engaging, and has one impressively extended tension filled climax. Unfortunately, most of the film leading up to this point isn’t necessarily suspenseful, even though scary sounding score tells us its supposed to be. Therefore, it has a lot relying on its final act and surreptitious twist.
At it’s worst, the flick has characters making somewhat implausible choices in the face of danger, but some well played performances from the likes of Lawrence and Shue manage to breath some actual personality in roles that could have been easily been cardboard stereotypes. Lawrence often elevates sub-par material, and here, gets to show off additional talents as a singer as well. Perennially underrated Shue shouldn’t be written off here, either. It’s the dynamic of these actresses that makes the majority of the film watchable since the creepy lonely boy with locked up deranged girl feels like a distraction that impinges on a better movie. Written by David Loucka (screenwriter of 2011’s Dream House) and based on a story by Jonathan Mostow (director of Surrogates, 2009), House at the End of the Street is a weird little title that can at least be chalked up to a guilty pleasure.