IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 101 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Seeking a fresh start, newly divorced Sarah and her daughter Elissa find the house of their dreams in a small, upscale, rural town, even if it is opposite a house where a murder took place. Sarah sees a light in the house at night and the next day at a welcome party thrown by the neighbours she and Elissa learn what happened. Years earlier in the house a girl called Carrie-Ann murdered her parents in their beds and ran into the woods never to be seen again, though it was presumed she drowned in the nearby dam. Her brother Ryan now lives alone in the house, hated by his neighbours because his house drives down their property values. They want to purchase his house and demolish it, but Ryan won’t sell the house, partly because it contains a deadly secret…..
House At The End Of The Street has been pretty much ‘sold’ as a horror film, something which I would say is not really accurate. There are horror elements, but it’s really more of a teen romance crossed with a thriller. Is it any good? Well, once you realise you’re not really watching the film you thought you were going to be watching, you may be entertained in spots, but overall it’s a rather humdrum, bland affair that seems to be constantly holding itself back from becoming too suspenseful or exciting or just plain good. It’s not really a bad movie; you may not totally regret watching it, but it just reeks of compromise and that admittedly overused term ‘dumbing down’. There is probably the potential for a really good dark thriller in the material, but it seems that most of the good stuff has just been ironed out in Hollywood’s obsessive quest to appeal to the teenagers.
We open with Carrie-Ann stabbing her parents to death, and it’s one of those scenes where the editing, the camerawork and even the colours go wild to try to compensate for the fact that we don’t get to see the actual stabbing. It works, kind of, and certainly begins the film well. For a short while it seems matters will continue to be good; how is it that a simple light on in a house can be so eerie? – but the film becomes less and less interesting very quickly with endless stuff involving Elissa trying to integrate herself at her new school, her growing friendship with Ryan and her mum’s unhappiness with the relationship. Ryan is of course a quiet, sensitive soul who is mis-understood even though he still plays cassettes [actually, so do I, so I shouldn’t use it as a criticism]. When Elissa and Ryan get down to ‘it’ with weedy ‘emo’ pop music in the background, it seems that the Twilight audience is the main target of this film and I really started to lose patience with it, though it does get better….kind of.
Now of course there are many good thrillers that depend on a good build-up, and there is nothing wrong with taking things slowly, but House At The End Of The Street, for much of the time, just seems to sit there, the tedium occasionally interrupted by a brief ‘interesting’ moment to remind is that this is supposed to be a thriller, though just when the film is getting good it goes back the way it was before. It is soon revealed to us very early on [so I’m not counting it as a spoiler!] but Carrie-Ann is actually alive and being looked after in the cellar by Ryan, who has to keep giving her drugs to prevent her homicidal impulses from taking over. There is a rather good sequence of her escaping from her cellar prison, looking all spooky and like an escapee from a Japanese ghost movie with her uncanny movements and black hair covering much of her face, but the film doesn’t capitalise on it for a while afterwards, and, as I walked out of the cinema I kept thinking of ways how the tension could have been heightened and the telling of the story improved. Not a good thing.
An accidental death half way through changes things a little and the story threatens to become interesting as Ryan is persecuted by all and sundry. Will he remain a misunderstood victim or does madness run in the family? The final third is lots of chasing around in a house of the kind you’ve seem a hundred times. The heroine trapped in a cellar, a cop calling in to investigate, some violence with knives and a hammer; we’ve seen it all before and nothing new is added. There are certainly a few tense moments but any brutality is cut away from. Graphic violence certainly is not essential in a film like this, but I think this particular one could have done with some to give it a much-needed edge. In fact, it seems hampered throughout by having to conform to a ‘PG-13’ rating, and before you ask, yes, I know it’s a ‘15’ over here but you don’t see anything that justifies that certificate. The only possible reason I can think of for that rating can be the subject of one of the ‘twists’.
Yes, this is one of Those films, and I actually didn’t guess the first twist but most viewers will probably be disappointed that it’s simply a variation on one that has been around for decades now, though I find it intriguing that filmmakers no longer seem bothered by the old rule ‘ the camera cannot lie’. Gone are the days when, for instance, Alfred Hitchcock is lambasted for inserting a flashback in Stage Fright which turns out to be inaccurate. This film also has a second twist right before the end credits and it does give the story a sadness that might hit some, but I was sure I had encountered it before in an 80’s slasher film and I was right. Overall the film seems to echo a certain old movie classic which I won’t mention but will become apparent to anyone who has seen it. Again, this is not automatically a bad thing, but this film just doesn’t put a decent-enough spin on its inspirations.
The camerawork is weird. Sometimes the camera is shaken about it in that stupid and irritating manner filmmakers seem to think is cool and edgy, but sometimes it moves around gracefully, giving the impression that there are two cinematographers. There’s one particularly good shot where we look in at Elissa through a window, go up the side of the house, over the roof and down the other side to see Carrie-Ann approaching the house. There are some decent performances in this film, with Jennifer Lawrence just as strong a presence as she was in The Hunger Games, and it’s always nice to see Elizabeth Shue; the woman is supposed to be 49 but she hardly seems to age! Sadly the most complex role in the movie, that of Ryan, isn’t made the most of by the person playing it, Max Thieriot. He’s just not up to it and is another major problem in a film that is full of them. I was left with a sour taste in my mouth after seeing House At The End Of The Street because its more interesting elements are almost callously simplified. For a start, it’s a shining example of the familiar situation when a group of ignorant, mean people are proven right by the way things work out. Could the film have been good with some more work on it? Possibly, but it would need so much work it would have to be almost a different movie. My advice would be to catch this on late night TV where it would sit quite comfortably.