Eye For Film >> Movies >> House At The End Of The Street (2012) Film Review
House At The End Of The Street
Reviewed by: David Graham
Jennifer Lawrence's career choices to date have been pretty exemplary; she really hasn't put a foot wrong, despite appearing in a couple of underwhelming but not exactly disastrous films like The Beaver. An early but well-deserved Oscar nod for Winter's Bone will no doubt be followed by an actual win in the next few years (she's in with a shout at the moment for Silver Linings Playbook), while she has raised her profile even further through commercially sound roles in the Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class franchises. So it's a little mystifying that she should choose to bestow her talents upon something that sounds so much like a bottom-rung video nasty - the fact that this isn't even the screamer it appears and, indeed, purports to be is both pleasantly surprising at the outset and deeply disappointing by the end.
When withdrawn teen Elissa finds her dysfunctional family unit upping sticks for the umpteenth time due to her overbearing mother Sarah's job, the initial resentment that's been compounded by over-friendly neighbours gives way to begrudging acceptance thanks to intriguing and not entirely unattractive boy-next-door Ryan. The survivor of a horrific accident that cost him his parents and sister, Ryan has been ostracised from his hateful community, spending his days fixing up the house so that he may one day sell it and move on with his life. Elissa soon realises, however, that his attachment to the property may be a cover for its dark secrets, and it's not long before their budding romance is threatened by her quest for the truth.
A hugely stylish and intense opening sequence promises a level of horror the film never manages or even tries to achieve, but some surprisingly solid family drama keeps the viewer involved in much of what follows. Elizabeth Shue and Lawrence's mother-daughter conflict is fleshed out through painfully barbed exchanges, the latter hurtfully dredging up past parental indiscretions while the former expresses maternal concern that's simultaneously understandable and self-centred. Both actresses deliver nuanced performances that secure audience sympathy through a combination of flintiness and vulnerability that the characters obviously feed to and off of each other.
Meanwhile, the central mystery is kept bubbling by the well-etched and slow-burning romance between Lawrence and agreeably low-key former child star Max Thieriot. He's so engaging, in fact, that when his dark side inevitably shows through, it only makes the viewer pity and root for him even more, especially when most of his tormentors are so effectively despicable. Director Mark Tondurai ruthlessly exploits his fresh-faced stars' effortless appeal throughout, although he frequently lapses into B-movie lechery with Lawrence's figure-hugging vests and ass-bolstering jeans deserving credits (and awards?) of their own.
Horror fans will probably be put off by the intimate and affecting courtship that develops, but it will come as a refreshing change to those hoping for a little more character development than might be expected with this genre, even if the tension between whether they will or won't get together and if he is or isn't what he seems is milked to a ridiculous extent. Culminating in a startlingly full-on heavy petting session, their relationship completely forsakes the usual horror tropes for the majority of the duration, but it's so well-handled that it's hard not to be swept along.
Where things really fall apart though is in the final act, when red herrings (that in many ways would have been preferable actualities) give way to cliched revelations that ruin the believability the film has succeeded in maintaining for the most part. You won't exactly have to be eagle-eyed or a genre aficionado to spot the twist, and most viewers will be squirming in their seats hoping it's not as lame and poorly executed as it ends up being.
An opportunity for the script to go into really dark and twisted terrain is also squandered, despite much of the signposting for one of the characters pointing to their involvement; the story poses all sorts of 'what if' questions only to leave us with the least worthy - and least frightening - explanations. If all hell had broken loose for the finale this all might have been forgivable, but the film really deserves better than such a shamefully weak and anticlimactic stalk and slash sequence to wrap itself up.
Tondurai's direction is excellent for the most part, with moody, well-lit locations and a skilfully maintained sense of unease, while an unusually atmospheric score helps keep the focus on the characters as opposed to the usual shrieking horror strings. Despite all the good work done by the cast and crew, however, this House just isn't scary enough, especially with a title that invites comparison to such classic chillers as The House By The Cemetery and Last House On The Left. If it had been marketed more as a teen thriller - à la entertaining Hitchcock homage Disturbia - it may have stood a better chance of pleasing punters, but even for young genre fans weaned on the choking fear of the Paranormal Activites and the schlocky gore of new-age torture-porn slashers, this will likely represent The End Of The Street in quality terms.Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2013