There should be no surprise the House at the End of the Street plays very much like a purposefully manufactured vehicle to do little more than spotlight and take advantage of the rising popularity of its star, Jennifer Lawrence. The film is directed at the teen and young-adult crowd that are her biggest fans due to the success of The Hunger Games. For most of its running time, the film is focused on her drama, dealing with her parent’s separation, her mother’s new-found controlling responsibility toward her, her new friends, and her need to fix her emotionally broken neighbor. It’s all movie-of-the-week stuff, contrived and unoriginal and only just barely interesting. However, as the focus shifts more and more toward her relationship with Ryan, the dangerous outsider next door, the film begins to finds its footing, its identity, and manages to deliver a satisfying and rousing conclusion despite its derivative nature.
The first half of the film is predictable and sluggish, made tolerable by its entertaining and likeable cast. Jennifer Lawrence leads a small cast as Elissa Cassidy that includes Elisabeth Shue as her mother, Max Thieriot as Ryan the boy next door and Gil Bellows as the likeable, even-tempered Sheriff. Their performances far outshine the script and the dialog enabling the audience to care for their relationships and become invested despite being lulled to sleep. Elisabeth Shue is delightful as Elissa’s mother, Sarah. She brings a history, a pain, a struggle to the character the dialog only hints at. She also portrays Sarah as truly concerned for her daughter’s safety, despite coming across over protective and controlling. Along with Shue, Max Thieriot shares a remarkable and endearing chemistry with the film’s star. He switches effortlessly, and frighteningly, from puppy dog eyes innocent to demented suspect. Again, like Shue, he brings the character its own history in his performance full of disappointment, emotional torture and heartbreak. Gil Bellows brings a welcomed normalcy to his role compared to the soap opera drama of surrounding cast; he is confident, intelligent and authoritative. His biggest struggle is when to make his move on Sarah.
Of course, the film rests on Jennifer Lawrence and her performance. As Elissa, she effortlessly shows the potential of her stardom. She is able to be rebellious without being obnoxious; sneaky without being delinquent; caring and seductive without being lustful. She illuminates the screen showing both her strength and vulnerability. Her interactions with Shue are far more interesting than her desire to fit in at school or propel her singing career at the local battle of the bands. She also manages to keep her character intelligent and authentic when the script has her doing arguably stupid things. This films isn’t a success but her performance is.
Oddly the film’s twist both works for and against the film. On one hand, the way the film is constructed around the twist is a bold, derivative lift from Psycho and similar films. Many of the film beats are instantly recognizable from the Hickcock classic, including a jump scare in a hallway and the film’s closing shots. And, while technically different from Psycho, a great deal of the final act takes place in the basement, the only thing missing is “Mother” rotting in her rocking chair. Still, the twist, multiple twists actually, work well. They are shocking and turn the story on its ear even despite being fairly predictable. Somehow, seeing the twist coming doesn’t diminish its impact, instead it remains extremely satisfying. However, one of the twists is far more interesting than most of the entire film and would have served to be brought up far sooner. In fact, the possibilities the twist poses could have been a movie on its own.
House at the End of the Street is a predictable but entertaining psychological thriller that succeeds on the merits of the cast and the well executed third act. It is a perfect film for its target audience, teens and young adults. Other demographics, however, may not be as involved or patient with the first and second act. The film, as directed by Mark Tonderai from a script by David Loucka and Jonathan Mostow, is polished and professional but never exceeds what is needed to deliver the film. Sadly, this is a trait shared with many of this years PG13 genre films. The film is also predictable and derivative but rewards its audience with a solid twist. House at the End of the Street is not likely to make much impact to cinema or the genre after its initial cinematic run but the film contains great performances from Lawrence, Shue and Thieriot and entertains its audience along the way.