Mark Tonderai’s House at the End of the Street (2012) tries to be something it isn’t – namely scary. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot and Elisabeth Shue, this would-be chiller starts atmospherically before becoming nothing more than a sub-standard, teenager-in-peril thriller. Sarah (Shue) and her teenage daughter Elissa (Lawrence) move next door to a secluded house where a young girl murdered her parents, before disappearing without a trace. Ryan (Thieriot), the family’s surviving son, still lives in the house. However, only after he strikes up a friendship with Elissa does the truth about his family come to the fore.
Peopled by angst ridden teenagers and a young man who hides a dark secret in his isolated house, you can see why critics of House at the End of the Street liken it unto a cross between Twilight (2008) and Psycho (1960) (which incidentally is a compliment to neither of those films). The adults in it are the type who apparently never ‘understand’ their children and are only out to spoil their fun. As for their part the said children (particularly Elissa) are moody kids who find their expression through the would-be indie rock bands of which they are members, and by stomping off petulantly the moment their parents tell them what to do – much like any normal teenager.
Which is the age-group this film is clearly aimed at. The standard frights for this kind of fodder – a fleeting glimpse of something passing the window, a young girl on her own in the house when her mother conveniently has to work late – may be OK to watch when you’re having a sleepover with your classmates. However, it ultimately has little substance to offer audiences over the age of say eighteen, as by the end nothing really happens other than the main protagonists getting the comeuppance they deserve.
In its favour, House at the End of the Street is well shot in muted tones which dapple the forest where the character’s bohemian homes are situated, and which provides ample space for the troubled teenagers to work out their inner demons. The cast, particularly Lawrence and Thieriot, give it their best shot at building tension, but one has to ask why an actress of Shue’s standing sees fit to reduce herself to appearing in hokum like this. This is the kind of film you grow out of watching, graduating to more substantial fare. One can only hope that the young cast will as well.