The House at the End of the Street (2012)
There are three things you should know about The House at the End of the Street
1. I saw it for free and I was disappointed.
2. So were most of the other critics who saw it with me.
3. I doubt we’re the target market for this movie.
If you’re a true horror fan looking for a taut psychological thriller, do not look here. While there were some scares, for the most part this films is so plodding that even with something like 4 twists it still didn’t manage to keep me engaged. I suspect the pitch for the film was “a Young Adult cover of Psycho meets Jayne Eyre,” which sounds like a brilliant idea, but is, in fact, not. The theater where I saw it was mostly packed with young women, most I will venture to guess are fans of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in the Hunger Games. Afterwards they gushed about how scared they were. So if you’re looking for a mild but belabored psychological thriller, this is the movie for you. Me? It saddened me that with such a high powered cast the director aimed so low.
The movie opens promisingly enough with a blue eyed girl looking at a ghostly snowglobe before she murders her parents. The sequence is original-offering distorted POV shots and showing scenes from unusual angles like under the bed. Instead of outright gore, the director uses artistic touches like bloody feathers falling to the ground after the father is murdered in bed, mirroring the snowglobe.
Then the movie really begins.
Four years later, Sarah (Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence) move from Chicago to a rural but upscale town. The house they rent is cheap because it happens to be next to the house where the double homicide from the opening took place. Later that night**, Sarah notices a light on at the house next door. (This film features some of the most unbelievably competent moving ever. In the span of an afternoon two women with no help set up an entire house.) When she confronts the realtor, he reveals that the son, Ryan (Max Thieriot), does actually live there despite efforts to get him to relocate. This somewhat rattles Sarah. More disturbing is the revelation that Carrie Ann, the murderer, was never found, but presumed drowned. While teenage Tyler (Nolan Gerard Funk) takes a bit of sadistic glee claiming that Carrie Ann is still alive and living in the forest, it’s not as creepy as the snobby comments from her new neighbors regarding Ryan.While it’s a bit unsettling to live in the house one’s parents were murdered in, it’s really disturbing when adults joke about burning it down so that it stops driving down the property value of their homes.
Later that week when Elissa attempts to flee a party hosted by Tyler, Ryan offers her a ride home. Ryan’s quiet polite ways are a stark contrast to the rest of the neighbors, and thus a friendship is born. Soon it is revealed to the audience, of course, that Ryan has a terrible secret: his sister, Carrie Ann, thought to be dead is actually alive and living in the basement. Ryan keeps her there, imprisoned.
So basically we have a pretty standard set-up: girl falls for guy with dangerous secret, set timer until secret is revealed. And so the movie plods along with its near misses and implausible fake scares. Elissa is, at one point, frightened by the snapping of a twig. It’s the FOREST! Twigs snap all the time. Not to mention that even small animals like squirrels can kick up such a ruckus you’re sure it’s a rabid coyote coming to rip out your throat.
To keep the film from falling into a predictable rut, the writer offered multiple twists. First, and the most obvious, Carrie Anne is not dead. But then there are another four or so more. With so many twists, it stretched my suspension of disbelief until it snapped from utter exhaustion. I’m not sure when the multiple twist ending got traction, but the writers of this film would do well to remember that their inspiration, Psycho, only had one twist. Mainly because it didn’t need one. That twist was effective enough. If that’s too dated of an example, Silent House (the American remake of La Casa Muda) features a single effective twist that is like a punch to the gut. instead of working on a strong story, the movie runs from reveal to reveal in a desperate hope to keep the audience gasping as well as guessing.
One of the most disappointing things about this film was that there was the promise of a deeper darker horror film under the surface. The parents in this film are largely absent and self-centered, leaving the children to govern themselves with disastrous results. Carrie Ann sustains brain damage while playing with her brother as her parents get high. Tyler throws parties where teens drink themselves sick, which his parents underwrite as being a charity group to aid the hungry. The parents at the neighbor hood bbq want to burn down Ryan’s house because he’s destroying their property values. Sarah is mainly absent from her daughter’s life while working long hours at the hospital. When not working, she attempts to “bond” with her daughter by inviting Ryan over, getting drunk, and then throwing him out. None of the parents in this film seem healthy or caring. In fact, they seem less together than the teenagers, something made explicit by Elissa who claims she forwards all her mother’s calls to her cellphone to protect her mother. While Elissa is clearly joking by “flipping the script” the joke is rather dark because in this world it rings true. The parents here are dangerous and self centered while their children either grow up in their image (Tyler) or attempt to do their best to survive a turbulent landscape with little protection (Elissa).
A deeper exploration of that would make for a stunning horror film, but here the director is more concerned with yet another scene of Carrie Ann escaping and nearly menacing Elissa then to go for something genuinely disturbing and uncomfortable, which should be the root of psychological thrillers. Instead this film is pitifully absent of psychological drama and due to its rating doesn’t even have much in the way of action except for lots of scenes with people running and while wielding weapons they don’t get to use. Spare yourself the trouble and just rewatch the original Psycho.