There’s yet to be a definitive label put on these tiresome movies released near-weekly that meld the most disposable elements of the thriller and horror film, relegating a laughable amount of scares to auditory screeches, but it’s tempting to toss Mark Tonderai’s House at the End of the Street onto the nameless heap. Such a cynical response, however, would be partially misguided, as the film is something of a throwback: a thriller with a solid twist and a killer that doesn’t control, communicate, or comingle with the ethereal.
In the role of Elissa, an angst-ridden high school student with singer-songwriter aspirations, Jennifer Lawrence goes through the motions smoothly enough, allowing for a few, brief gasps of personality, but she certainly doesn’t elevate the role as she did her underwritten part in the largely insufferable Like Crazy. The same could be said about Max Thieriot as Ryan, the quiet, sensitive hunk who lives next door in the titular suburban home, wherein his sister butchered their parents unmercifully when they were both children. This is the crime that echoes throughout the film, made all the more chilling when it’s revealed that Ryan’s sister is alive and being restrained by her brother in a hidden room inside the house; she, of course, has ways of getting out. And as the film goes on, a more unsettling revelation is made, along with a nasty bit of pathology. Though bloodless, House at the End of the Street still offers that rare treat in modern B movies: a genuinely dangerous murderer and criminal at work, rituals and all. And if it’s also essentially toothless, it never stoops to humorless torture-porn theatrics.
In other words, the film prefers cat-and-mouse to mouse-and-mousetrap, and most of the credit for this goes to Jonathan Mostow’s story concept. (The Surrogates helmer was set to direct the original script by Richard Kelly back in 2003.) The screenplay, by David Louka, that was produced, though not without flecks of interest, is structurally calamitous and provides more than a handful of winsome exchanges between characters. And while Tonderai shows some unique presence as a stylist, the film remains an erratic mess and continuously depends on its soundtrack to provide the scares that Tonderai seems incapable or unwilling to invent visually.
So, while House at the End of the Street is marginally weirder and more enticing than one may have been led to believe by its marketing push, it also somehow retains the vilest elements of its perceived ilk, bullying us into being scared instead of actually embracing the violence, bloodshed, and all-consuming perversity it constantly, blandly implies and insinuates. It also suggests an inherent, absolute comfort and impenetrable safety in isolationism and parental wisdom, without really taking stock of the negatives of either thinking. There’s an odd, if not sickening, comfort in seeing an actual character, not an invisible presence, at the root of a film’s deviousness, if for nothing else than to know that it was a decision made and that someone is at fault. In this, the film invokes the genuine creepiness of 1990s psychological thrillers, but such nostalgia only goes so far.