A by-the-numbers suspense thriller about a normal teenage girl who moves to a new neighborhood and gets increasingly involved with the creep who lives on the corner, House At The End Of The Street knows exactly how to drum up chills for its target teen girl audience. Blessed by the uber-hotness of Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off The Hunger Games phenomenon, with Max Thieriot's (My Soul To Take) nifty weirdo as a bonus, this PG-13 scare-fest is more psychological terror than blood and guts, and should satisfy—not repulse—young genre fans. Initial box office should be sweet given the Lawrence factor, at least if the teen crowd doesn't feel like they have already visited this neighborhood too many times before. Afterlife on DVD and cable will be strong.
The plot mapped out by screenwriter David Loucka from a Jonathan Mostow story won't win any awards for originality, but certainly serves its purpose. Young Elissa (Lawrence) and her divorced mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) move into a nice, rather upscale neighborhood which turns out to be anything but when they learn that the adjacent woods (aren't there always woods nearby in these movies?) may be the hangout for a diabolical killer. This doesn't stop Elissa from striking up a friendship with a seemingly nice, serious guy, Ryan (Thieriot) who is the sole survivor of a horrific double murder that took the lives of his parents in the house next to hers. His nutso sister Carrie Anne was the murderess, and now he is left alone in the house, a soulful, searching type of young man with whom Elissa empathizes.
Things turn creepy as small details of his life are slowly revealed, yet while Elissa plays sleuth, her mother is content being clueless until things start getting out of hand. Director Mark Tonderai doesn't lay any of this on like molasses, and that's welcome. Even though we know where all this is all heading, he lets the relationships play out believably without resorting to strict stereotypes. For this, Tonderai has a supremely capable cast to thank. In a more straightforward and normal role than she's played in Hunger Games or her Oscar-nominated turn in Winter's Bone, Lawrence knows exactly how to set the right tone—she's credible thoughout. Shue (Leaving Las Vegas) is perfectly cast as her mother, but isn't given a lot of interesting scenes. Nevertheless the pair make a believable mother/daughter combo. But it's the mysterious Thieriot who really excels, adding much-needed emotional layers and ratcheting up the suspense factor to the film's key twist (okay, okay, I admit I didn't see it coming).
House At The End Of The Street won't re-invent the genre—it is the genre—but it's an effective, forgettable diversion.
Distributor: Relativity Media
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thieriot, Gil Bellows
Director: Mark Tonderai
Screenwriters: David Loucka, based on a story by Jonathan Mostow
Producers: Peter Block, Hal Lieberman, Aaron Ryder
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror , thematic elements, language, some teen partying, and brief drug material
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: September 21, 2012
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