Friday, 28 September 2012

The House At The End OF The Street


We’ve seen a number of humdrum horror film titles over the years but House at the End of the Street could perhaps be the most generic one yet. And I’m afraid to say that it is a rather suitable heading for the films predominantly dreary, formulaic content.

Newly-divorced Susan (Elisabeth Shue) and daughter Elissa (Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence) move to an upscale, rural town in order to make a fresh start. When they learn that the house opposite was where a young girl murdered her parents, and that the family’s son Ryan (Max Thieriot) still resides in it, the nosy neighbours and jack-ass jerks at school insist to use its devastation to cast a lurking shadow over the town. But as Elissa befriends exiled loner Ryan, she discovers that the house still suppresses a sinister secret.

After conquering her challenging, action-packed role in Hunger Games earlier this year, Lawrence’s role as a disgruntled high-school teenager must have been a piece of cake in comparison. The majority of her screen time is spent exercising her angst against her mother or looking momentarily shocked at, say, the sound of a broken twig behind her - one of the many triggers of an semi-conscious roll of the eyes!

As proved countless times before, small budget horror by no means spells disaster. But in this case, little imagination and a lot of cliché clutter makes for a predictable and lagging plot. Suffering significantly from a lack of impacting atmosphere, the teenage romance upstairs with the creepy-girl-hidden-in-the-basement does little more than go through the motions. The character of intriguing loner Ryan is captivating and Elissa’s instinctual pull towards helping the emotionally damaged allows their relationship to grow into an innocent and tender understanding. But we can only sit back and wait for the tragedy to unfold, rightfully suspecting that Ryan’s deep mental scars will be something to do with it. A little frustrating too is the time we spend watching the girl escape from the basement… and then watching Ryan capture her and return the key to its original spot (why wouldn’t he hide the key somewhere else!?) Director… clearly initialises an intriguing story of ones mental delusion and disguise, but its effect is ultimately minimalised by its poor execution, and further suffocated by the rest of the characters pitiful problems.

It’s hard to believe that my concluding reaction would be largely negative when after the first two minutes I genuinely felt reassured that it wasn’t going to go down the tragic Hollywoodesque horror route that the likes of The Wicker Tree (2010), Fright Night (2011) or Playback (2012) did. The opening scene of the family murders is loaded with suspense, plunging into a girl’s vicious attack on her family, with crafty, flashy cinematography to indicate her possessive or disturbed state. While it makes an inviting introductory scene, it is probably its own worst enemy by instantly causing high, but regrettably unmet, expectations for the following 100 minutes, looking out of place in both style and approach as the rest sits back into the comfortable and unimaginative conventional screen shots. Max Thieriot impresses in his first major film role, playing a convincing psychologically damaged adolescent. His adoption of unnervy and qwerky mannerisms works to conceal his true nature, with just enough stamina for the audience to question his intentions until the suspended climax.
Writing this I am still uncertain of the relevance to the film’s title considering that the house is not clearly at the end of a street or particularly secluded, as it would suggest. Perhaps there is an element of pickiness in my accusation, but it bothered me nonetheless. NOT to be confused with, but perhaps should have taken tips from, low budget Italian exploitation films, The House on the Edge of the Park or Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Now let’s stop with the hullabaloo of houses locale!

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