Seeking a fresh start, newly divorced Sarah (Oscar-nominee Elisabeth Shue; Leaving Las Vegas, Piranha 3D) and her daughter Elissa (Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence; The Hunger Games, X-Men: First Class) find the house of their dreams in a small, upscale, rural town. But when startling and unexplainable events begin to happen, Sarah and Elissa learn the town is in the shadows of a chilling secret. Years earlier, in the house next door, a daughter killed her parents in their beds, and disappeared - leaving only a brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot, My Soul to Take), as the sole survivor. Against Sarah's wishes, Elissa begins a relationship with the reclusive Ryan - and the closer they get, the deeper they're all pulled into a mystery more dangerous than they ever imagined.
Four years ago, the House at the End of the Street was the scene of a brutal crime; a young girl slaughtered both of her parents and disappeared into the night. Elissa Cassidy (Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games) and her mother, Sarah (Hollow Man's Elizabeth Shue) move into the house next store and Sarah, having been told that the "murder house" is empty, is shocked to see a light come on in one of the windows late one night. She asks some of the other neighbors about the house, and discovers that the son of the murdered couple (and brother of the killer), a young man named Ryan (Max Thieriot from My Soul to Take), still lives in the house. Elissa ends up meeting Ryan and, contrary to what all of the neighbors seem to think, believes that he is a good guy. Her mother is understandably a little more suspicious of the loner, and as Elissa gets to know Ryan better, she begins to realize that he does have secrets, and may not be all that she thinks he is.
That synopsis is purposely vague. Like The Blair Witch Project and The Cabin in the Woods, audiences should go into House at the End of the Street knowing as little as possible about the plot of the film for maximum enjoyment. The screenplay, written by David Loucka (Dream House) from a story by Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown), is full of neat little twists and huge jaw-dropping surprises, and the less the viewers suspects, the better. With every wrench thrown into the plot, the viewer thinks they've seen it all, only to find a bigger revelation waiting just around the bend. Director Mark Tonderai (Hush) takes the competent script and breathes tons of suspense into it, and between the unpredictable events and the believable performances, House at the End of the Street turns out to be a pretty tense ride.
There are a few places where the movie gets a little weighed-down; there are a couple of cheesy subplots involving Elissa joining a band and Sarah wooing a policeman that feel forced and, while they do contribute briefly to the main narrative, they lend an air of teeny-bop bubblegummy-ness that could (and should) have been re-written to fit the darkness of the rest of the film. Nevertheless, the corny sections are the exception rather than the rule, and most of House at the End of the Street is edge-of-your-seat viewing that keeps surprising the audience right up to the very last frame.
House at the End of the Street is done in the same claustrophobic style as films like The Strangers and The Devil's Rejects, giving it a kind of creepy realism. It was shot by cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak (Land of the Dead), and just about every shot features some type of motion. Most of the photography is handheld with a very shallow depth of field so that the camera is almost struggling to stay in focus, fumbling with the subject. The effect is an almost documentary look that adds authenticity to the fictional narrative. The feel is not exactly like reality T.V. or found footage, but Baszak uses unsteadiness and tight framing to achieve a similar vibe, creating an uneasiness that makes the viewer believe that something is always happening just out of the shot. Baszak's camera work is impressive and distinct without detracting from the story, giving House at the End of the Street the perfect look to go with the twisting, turning story.
Throughout House at the End of the Street, Mark Tonderai does an admirable job of creating tension and building suspense, but there are very few real scares and, for as original and unpredictable as the film is, the scares that do show up are routine. It is definitely more of a suspense and mystery film than a horror film, and that's okay -- it's well written and executed enough to get by without inducing any screams, and still holds on to the audience's attention. House At The End Of The Street is an engaging and engrossing film, it just won't keep anyone awake at night after seeing it.
Horror, thriller, Mystery
September 21, 2012