Friday, September 21, 2012

House at the End of the Street

Review by Bob Ignizio

One-time partier mom turned responsible nurse Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her 17 year old musician daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) try to reconnect while renting a swanky house that would normally be well outside their budget if it weren't for the double murder that took place next door. As we see in the flashback that opens the film, a teenage girl named Carrie Ann (Eva Link) killed both her parents there. The girl was never found, and while most assume she died in the surrounding national park, some maintain she's still out there. The only known member of Carrie Ann's family still alive is brother Ryan (Max Thieriot), who was staying with his Aunt at the time the murders took place.

Although Sarah was told that the house where the tragedies occurred was vacant when she signed her lease, it turns out that Ryan is actually living there, ostensibly fixing the place up so he can sell it. After rebuffing the unwanted advances of rich and arrogant local boy, Elissa meets Ryan for herself when he offers her a ride home. Ryan is clearly a damaged soul, but his bad-boy charisma and generally nice demeanor begin to win Sarah over. But Ryan has some dark and potentially dangerous family secrets that may put an end to any budding romance.

Despite the grindhouse-esque title, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET isn't so much a horror film as it is a thriller. For about the first two thirds of its running time, it does a good job developing its characters and building suspense and tension slowly but surely. The overall feel is reminiscent of the sort of films that were influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO, wherein horror didn't come from the supernatural or some mad scientist's lab, but was born out of the family and the subconscious. In particular, it recalls some of the films of Curtis Harrington like WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? And WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN, and James Kelley's THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR.

While the setup isn't anything exceptional, it is effective and engrossing. Thieriot may not have quite the presence his role demands, but Shue and Lawrence are in fine form. Gil Bellows also does a nice turn as a local police officer thinks Ryan has gotten a raw deal from the community, most of whom blame him for driving down the property values. Director Mark Tonderai also does a nice job incorporating Freudian symbolism into his film, with bad things rising from the subconscious/subbasement, generally right around the time one of the main characters is feeling sexually aroused.

Things take a turn towards the cheesy and predictable in the final act, though. Granted, part of the fun in movies like this comes from recognizing the genre tropes, but at some point it's generally a good idea to put some kind of fresh spin on the old clichés. Instead, Tonderai hits every note you'd expect in just the way you'd expect him to hit it while expecting us to be surprised. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I'll just say that the film's final “shock” is only a surprise to those who haven't been paying attention. It also recalls the highly memorable final shot in one of the cheesiest slasher films of the eighties, but I can say no more without giving too much away for those who might still want to see this.

Honestly, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET isn't terrible, even with its weak final act. Anyone who has seen more than a handful of horror movies and thrillers won't find much here that's new or interesting, but that shouldn't be much of an issue for the target audience of teens and twentysomethings this film is aimed at. There are other issues besides the lack of originality, but for the most part the film is well acted. There's nothing inspired about the writing or direction, but they're at least competent. 2 out of 4 stars

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