First thing’s first – what is Jennifer Lawrence, an Academy Award nominated actress who has the kind of acting chops to hold down small and difficult indie dramas as well as carry lucrative franchise films, doing in a completely cheesy kind-of thriller/kind-of horror movie like this one? You’ll be glad to know that this was made before she was nominated for an Oscar for “Winter’s Bone” and way before the odds were ever in her favor as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games.” In this context you can see glimmers of her emerging talent; she is able to out act people twice her age in “House at the End of the Street,” but that isn’t saying much for the movie as a whole. Usually the end of August into early September is a studio dumping ground for lazy and unimaginative genre movies not able to easily fit in anywhere else mostly because they are just plain horrible movies. This one, without a doubt, is a prime candidate for that category.
Lawrence plays Elissa, a teen with a penchant for music and mischief who moves to the burbs with her mom, played by Elizabeth Shue, following her parents’ divorce. There’s a slight mention of the dad never being around, but also multiple mentions of Shue not ever being around either. The move is an attempt to patch things up and start anew, though a familial power struggle between Lawrence and Shue remains. This struggle plays out against a story involving the next-door neighbors – well, the former next-door neighbors. See, it just so happens the neighbors were brutally murdered by their daughter Carrie-Anne. The reason for her brutality is only vaguely explained as her having “brain damage,” and now she’s gone missing but is presumably dead. In the meantime the family’s son Ryan, played by Max Thierot, who was allegedly with an unnamed and unexplained aunt at the time of the murders, has moved back in to the family home to also start anew. Strangely enough the house in question isn’t even really at the end of the street. It’s sort of in the middle of an affluent, wooded community in back of Lawrence’s house. It’s indicative of the movie itself – striving for spookiness but ending up as hollow and meaningless.
Both Lawrence and Thierot are outcasts, for obviously different reasons, and they eventually strike up a friendship that blossoms into a bit of a romance. But surprise! The killer daughter is alive and (sort of) well as Thierot’s character keeps her drugged and locked up in the house’s basement. Nothing much happens once the audience is let in on Thierot’s little secret besides a few escape attempts by the daughter who we assume is after Lawrence’s character in some jealous, homicidal rage. The two lovebirds try to get on with their budding relationship and we are left to wonder whether this movie has just turned into a teen soap opera on the CW. Lawrence is extremely charming and does the best she can with bland dialogue cobbled together to enact feelings. Thierot can only manage to give a one-note performance for most of the movie, mumbling through laughably emo lines like, “I like to write early in the morning because then all the best ideas aren’t taken yet.” The most ridiculous scene between the two comes when they try to share a tender moment staring at a tree – I kid you not. People in my theater (myself included) were laughing out loud at these moments and the allegedly scary moments that come later.
We are forced to wait for the inevitable twist, which ends up being too little too late to make up for the absurdly derivative scary movie moments along the way. You want cheap jump scares? You got ‘em. You want the same scary little girl in a nightgown posed and peering through her scraggly hair like in “The Ring?” That’s here too. You know that moment in a horror movie where the damsel in distress opens the door or goes upstairs and you know she’s dead meat? Moments like these in the movie are stretched to the absolute edge of believability and almost always go over without looking back. Everything is too convenient to what a horror movie should be that once it defines itself as such it is too tired and played out for us to care. The movie pushes itself further and further until it is way too far gone, and it’s not even done in a clever manner to be even a little exciting. The one final twist (yes, there are a few) is so blatantly derivative that it is just barely legitimate enough to differentiate itself from what it is ripping off. Naming just what it does rip off would do a disservice to that film, but I’m tempted to spoil it just so people would go watch it rather than this waste of time. The only thing that saves this utter schlock is Lawrence who, thankfully, is on to bigger and much much better things, but everything else about the movie is completely unnecessary.