“House at the End of the Street” has an interesting twist to it, but let’s face it: the majority of major horror film releases have a twist these days. And if a film doesn’t do a complete one-eighty, totally refuting an earlier scene, then it’s usually a contrived ghost story of some sort. With films like “Paranormal Activity 4” and “Mama” right around the corner, it’s clear that the genre is going to be stuck in this revolving tread for some time moving forward. “Sinister” looks like it might be creepy fun, but even that movie’s trailer features things horror audiences have seen before(a boy coming out of a box with his back arched over like he’s possessed isn’t scary – sorry).
The twist can’t help Jennifer Lawrence’s latest film, because it is certainly lacking in the one element that all horror movies need to have to truly be good: a sense of fun. “House at the End of the Street” may be rated PG-13, but it has an ‘ick’ factor that ranks it right up with R-rated horror that likes to feature scenes of torture and whatnot. When the viewer finally realizes what’s going on, it’s a rather unsettling feeling that comes on. What happened to the understanding that the horror villain is supposed to be the hero-of-sorts? Part of the fun of watching Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger go to work is to see the bullying jock get his comeuppance. The working formula states that some of the characters have to be unlikeable for the expressed, written purpose of giving the villain some fresh meat to eviscerate. If the villain starts preying on completely innocent people, where’s the fun in that? And if the main character happens to escape the clutches of the bloodthirsty, no harm, no foul? What about mourning the loss of all those innocents? Even Chucky the Doll might find that morally questionable.
The rays on Jennifer Lawrence’s stardom are certainly getting brighter, so this should ensure that she doesn’t have to choose to work in films such as this one in the future. That being said, she gives her all to the role, so it certainly isn’t her acting chops dragging the film down. It’s nice to see Elizabeth Shue back on the big screen on a semi-regular basis, but she needs roles with a little more meat to them. She was only in one scene in “Hope Springs”, and here her character is the stereotypical mother-never-there-for-her-daughter-but-now-trying-to-make-it-right-while-continuing-to-make-the-same-mistakes. It’s a role that could have been filled by anyone. She might be happy doing smaller film roles at the moment, but she certainly deserves better material.
If there’s one scene that shows any sort of promise for the film, it’s one that features Shue. Her character is sitting in bed reading when she notices a light come on in the “House at the End of the Street.” It’s 3 a.m., and the house is supposedly abandoned. In this moment, the viewer can relate to the unease that the character feels. It’s too bad the rest of the film can’t seem to build any tension. It relies on the ‘boo’ scare almost exclusively(the one where characters unexpectedly jump into the frame to spook unsuspecting subjects), and punctuates every scare with overly-loud sound effects. The film opens with a purposeless flash of white light, ensuring that everyone in the pitch-black theater will have to squint their eyes and wait for the torture to cease. That should have been taken as a warning sign. Director Mark Tonderai makes some strange choices throughout the film, such as a party scene that looks like an effects-laden music video.
There are varying degrees of creep factor. There are the kinds that get under the skin in a good way, like goose bumps on the arm while watching a horror movie. Sadly, “House at the End of the Street” doesn’t offer any of this kind of creepiness, and clearly doesn’t know how to either. Instead, it gets under the skin in the wrong way once the big twist is revealed. The fact that this film is still in the top five in its second release week of release proves that there is still a large demographic thirsting for film horror. But strangely enough, bland material like this is holding its own while “Cabin in the Woods” was quite a flop earlier this year. But mediocrity begets mediocrity, so as long as people keep spending money on it Hollywood studios will keep regurgitating it. Quite sad, but this reviewer is probably to blame as well. After watching this, perhaps he was a little hard on “Cabin in the Woods.” That film was infinitely more enjoyable than this.