The good news about House at the End of the Street is that it’s not the aggressive swell of haunted house horror clichés that the trailers promised. Nope, this is actually somewhat of a traditional thriller that has more in common with a certain Hitchcock movie than it does with the latest direct-to-DVD genre rehash. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good thriller and the suspense/scares are doled out in such a dreary “slow burn” way that about as much time is spent developing a “battle of the bands” subplot as building up dread or atmosphere. Everything that’s been presented about the film pre-release comes in a rush in the last 30 minutes, so most people who bought a ticket will be bored and then disappointed. Ah well, at least the movie is bad in an unexpected way. That’s not much, but it’s something.
So, Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Shue are this mother/daughter team. They’re a broken family missing a father with many damaged bridges between them, so they move to a new town for a fresh start. They get a house incredibly cheap because the place next door was a where a family was brutally massacred years ago when a pre-teen girl murdered her parents. The surviving son from that family (Max Thieriot) still lives there now, but surely that’s nothing to worry about. Ok, so everyone in the town hates him, but Lawrence instantly thinks he’s pretty cute and they become friends. Shue can tell her daughter is falling in love and tries to stop her, but parents just don’t understand! He’s all cute and mysterious and stuff, mom! So they start falling in love and Lawrence starts preparing, like, super hard for a high school battle of the bands that appears to be very important since it takes up a huge chunk of the plot. That all covers about 50 excruciating minutes. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, this is still a thriller. During that stretch we also see a couple of scenes that reveal Thieriot’s crazy sisters is still alive. He keeps her locked up in the basement where no one can find her and cares for her personally. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that, right?
Thieriot is pretty suspicious through puppy dog eyes from the start, and while there is a decent twist involved with his character, the movie wastes far too much time getting there. Even though the full details of the mystery are held until the final moments of the film, it’ll be an easy one to work out for anyone who has seen (or is even vaguely familiar with) a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie. There’s very little in the way of suspense or scares until the truth starts slipping out in the final act, so until that point incredibly large amounts of time are spent setting up red herring plotlines involving Lawrence’s entry in the battle of the bands (which was probably only included to give the rising star a chance to sing) and developing a pointless relationship between Shue and the county sheriff. Admittedly, Lawrence and Shue are both good enough actresses that they manage to add realism and characterization to lifeless roles. Now, that doesn’t add much to the movie at all, but it at least makes the long, overdrawn set up less painful to watch.
When the suspense and scares finally arrive director Mark Tonderai at least handles them competently and the movie thankfully doesn’t degenerate into a shaky cam mess. There’s a sense of basic suspense film grammar in place. The real issue is that it’s unlikely anyone will really be interested in watching this brand of antiquated thriller since this one is so thoroughly mediocre. Horror fans tricked into the theater from the advertisements will be deeply disappointed by inappropriate Halloween season entertainment. Kids who are now fans of Lawrence after Hunger Games probably won’t be into this brand of slow-burn thriller, while adults who are will find little of interest in what is essentially the big screen equivalent of a YA semi-thriller book fair novel. It’s a movie to disappoint audiences of all kinds, yet not a terrible waste of film stock like, say, The Apparition. Nope, this is just a deeply mediocre movie that would have quickly disappeared without notice before Lawrence went and got so famous. It’ll still disappear quickly, only people will notice the first weekend before forgetting it ever existed. Just jump to the forgetting stage now. No sense in wasting precious mental energy on something like this with so many other releases clogging up screens this week.