You can get a healthy argument started among film geeks about “Psycho’s” denouement, that curious scene where a psychiatrist breaks down Norman’s psychoses for the audience and the mild-mannered hotel clerk/serial killer stares into the camera. Some argue it’s a case of Hitchcock telling too much after showing so well in the nearly perfect thriller. Now, extrapolate that to a feature film, a movie where every character is not only hypothesizing about the motives and feelings of a would-be killer, but the villain himself gives away the plot through tortured speeches and jittery, speed-ramped flashbacks.
That’s “The House At the End of the Street” in a nutshell, a thriller that believes its audience is as brainless as it is, shot with a mix of excessive style and pore-revealing closeups, with a central mystery whose tension is more or less undone within the first half hour, and worse, wasting Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue in an embarrassing mess.
It all starts off badly enough, with a home invasion/murder of a couple by a nightgown-wearing young girl who flees into the woods. The strobing, pulsing double-homicide in the house out in the middle of the woods obscures the face of our killer, thought to be the couple’s daughter and a victim of the elements while fleeing from the police. The house where she grew up (notably, not at the end of any street, but instead recessed deep in the woods) has earned a bad reputation–so bad that it’s allowed doctor/single mom Sarah (Shue) to move in with her rebellious daughter Elissa (Lawrence).
The real cost of their new place is having to mingle with the neighbors, who shun murder house and its sole occupant–the haunted, wild-eyed, and obviously unstable teen Ryan (Max Thierot)–like he’s some kind of malevolent presence himself. They might be on to something, as the sympathetic Elissa tries to reach out to the troubled bad boy (he drives his dad’s old car, listens to tapes, rushes off the handle the mysterious sounds in his extensive sub-basement) despite her mom’s concerns, drawing the mother and daughter into a blood-sticky, meth-fueled conclusion that’s no less stupid for being predictable.
Thierot plays Ryan as if he’s just come from a 10-year stint at a sunless asylum, a hollow-eyed, tormented young man who’s better off keeping to himself (his reasons for wanting to connect with Elissa don’t really make sense in the context of his ultra-secretive life/MO). And while there might be some interesting drama to mine from the relationship between a newly-divorced mom and her daughter, in having flat dialog that has the character outright dropping their emotional states and clunky backstory into the scene (“I’m made because your rock and roll dad left us!”), and it adds to the rushed pacing. Director Mark Tonderai–working from a script based on a short story from “U-571” director Jonathan Mostow is in a hurry to get to the chase scenes and body count, without bothering to actually establish its characters beyond rough, ugly sketches.
And that’s essentially what this movie is: ugly. It’s characters are deeply unpleasant (how much more bickering can you stand between Shue and Lawrence), its horror is of the grimy and gross sweaty confinement variety, and even the way Tonderai’s camera lurches, lunges, and tilts during the action make “H.A.T.E.” the ultimate, laborious eyesore.
Special features and presentation
– Theatrical and Unrated cuts: They’re really only different by about two minutes’ running time if you want to see the slightly tamer version that was shown theatrically.
– “Journey Into Terror: Inside The House At the End of the Street” (09:59, HD): The cast and filmmakers talk about the themes of “House,” with each effusing about the character work and story in typical EPK fashion. Jennifer Lawrence, in particular, sees far more depth in her character than what shows up onscreen.
– Theatrical trailer
“The House At the End of the Street” is available now on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray from Twentieth Century Fox.