As an overused phrase once said, it's never wise to judge a book or movie by its cover (or, in this case, title). However, in the case of the horror/thriller "House at the End of the Street," the name sums up the film quite nicely: it's a clumsy title for an equally clumsy thriller. That isn't to say "House at the End" doesn't do certain things pretty well; it just isn't particularly consistent, especially when it comes to being scary.
"The Hunger Games"'s Jennifer Lawrence stars as Elissa, a young, cynical Chicago high schooler coping with a move out into the middle of nowhere. Coming along is her caring but busy nurse mom (Elisabeth Shue). The two have a typical horror movie relationship in which the parent is attempting to become more involved, and the child is having none of it, leading to several angry dinner arguments. If only some horrible life-threatening dilemma could bring the two of them together.
Conveniently, there's a house at the end of the street (though it looks more like a cabin in the woods, but I suppose that equally vague title was already taken) where a handsome young stranger (Max Thieriot) with a terrible past lives. Years ago, in an over-directed opening sequence, his sister brutally murdered his parents and disappeared. He begins to hit it off with Elissa, which unnerves her mother and some of the preppy townsfolk. And considering it's a horror movie, they're probably onto something.
The screenplay, based on a story by "Terminator 3" and "Surrogates" director Jonathan Mostow of all people, throws a number of twists at the audience. Surprisingly, most of them are actually pretty effective. The whole story, despite its seemingly generic front, keeps viewers guessing a decent amount, and while none of the turns are particularly new, they do keep things far more interesting than the typical PG-13 horror flick.
"End of the Street" is also nicely anchored by its two star performances, Lawrence and Shue. They're not particularly challenging roles, but they look sufficiently scared, and Lawrence has a light, comfortable ease with writer David Loucka's dialogue, even when it makes her do something dumb like strum mopey pop songs on a guitar or awkwardly pester Thieriot about his dead family. The fact that her character is any bit relatable is more a tribute to Lawrence's likeable on-screen presence rather than anything on the page.
It's unfortunately an ease that not many others in the cast possess. While sometimes Loucka's script sounds smarter than the average thriller, when someone other than Lawrence or Shue is speaking, the movie sounds like it's trying too hard to sound intelligent and snappy. Normally, it just comes off as silly.
It doesn't help that as "End of the Street" moves toward its climax, Loucka starts indulging himself in some of the genre's most groan-worthy clichés. The most egregious of these is the neighborhood cop (Gil Bellows) who seems to be the only policeman in the city and can't seem to afford some new batteries for his flashlight. He probably couldn't get a signal on his cell phone either.
Another cliché plot development involving the high school's smug womanizer takes a hilariously over-the-top turn when he suddenly decides to take up beating up Thieriot, destroying his car and arson. "End of the Street" has several decent twists; the overheated schoolyard antics aren't included amongst them.
Besides the random bullies from hell, director Mark Tonderai sets up the twists interestingly. He just doesn't know how to make them scary or even that intense, other than to throw on a bunch of blurry filters and other ineffective camera tricks. The audience spends a lot of time watching the characters interact, act cute and look at trees, which I'm sure was intended to build tension, but it seems more like mildly diverting padding.
It's too bad because there's actually promise in "House at the End of the Street." It's got an above average cast with a few above average lines and plot twists. It's just impossible to fully recommend a scary movie that's not, you know, scary.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 3, 2015
In fact, other than some busy confetti cannons - and I mean very busy - OK Go's 90-minute set pushed aside any sign of the viral video prop-heavy gimmickry the band is most famous for and instead relied on its power pop rock music and some charming banter to click with the Summerfest crowd. And, as it turns out, that was more than enough to deliver an awesome and entertaining evening.
Published July 2, 2015
Barely two years after his first show in 2013, WebsterX is now living his dream world he created of being a rap star. The 22-year-old rapper has risen to become one of the Milwaukee music scene's biggest stars, grabbing local and national headlines and, most recently, opening for global superstar Lupe Fiasco at the Miller Lite Oasis on Friday, July 3 at 8 p.m.
Published July 2, 2015
During his Amphitheater performance Wednesday night, Kendrick Lamar noted the last time he was here, "the energy was so motherf*ckin' loud," and if that was a 10, he wanted this show to hit a 12. Well, it certainly felt like a 12, with the packed crowd bobbing their heads, swaying their arms and just generally going crazy for every verse. And even though it barely lasted 60 minutes, Lamar's vigorous fireball of a set gave them plenty to go crazy about.
Published July 1, 2015
I'll admit it; before Tuesday night's Marcus Amphitheater show started up, one of those people was me. I wondered why a band, whose last seemingly notable moments came at the service of three-fourths of Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise, was a Big Gig Amp headliner. Well, one large serving of crow, please, cooked medium rare.
Published June 30, 2015
Most bands desperately hope that their music videos will go viral. For pop rockers OK Go, at this point, it's almost expected. With a Summerfest headliner set scheduled for the Uline Warehouse on Thursday, July 2, I chatted with bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind about the band's stories behind some of their viral sensations.
Published June 30, 2015
After traveling the globe in support of its star-making self-titled debut album, PHOX's tour is bringing the band right back to where its journey started in the first place: Wisconsin. Before it heads home to Baraboo, the band is dropping by its "home away from home" of Milwaukee to play Summerfest, opening for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros on Thursday, July 2. Before then, we talked to Matt Holmen about his own fond Big Gig memories.
Published June 29, 2015
According to, well, herself, DJ Paris Hilton is one of the top paid DJs currently working. Unfortunately, much like the "Transformers" movies, her Summerfest set was one of those situations where the amount of the money involved was inversely proportionate to the amount of skill on display. Also like the "Transformers" films, it was loud, clunky, sporadically dull despite all of the noise, unnecessarily lengthy and, by the end, left me in a little bit of pain.
Published June 28, 2015
If you've seen Disney/Pixar's latest animated hit "Inside Out," there's a good chance a certain song has been rattling around in your mind ever since. No, not that TripleDent gum jingle, but the chorus to "Lava," the brief and beautifully rendered short about a volcanic island looking for love. While the short takes plenty of inspiration from Hawaii, as it turns out, Murphy's journey to get there made a stop right here in Milwaukee.
Published June 28, 2015
As clearly proved Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, "Shut Up And Dance" pop rockers Walk The Moon can now draw a packed house. The only question: Would they put on a show worthy of the face painted mob they gathered? Most certainly.
Published June 27, 2015
For a guy whose latest album was titled "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," a lot has gone pretty right for legendary blues rocker Elvin Bishop over the past 365 days - an award-winning new album, a place on the soundtrack of one of Hollywood's biggest hits, a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and now a headliner gig at Summerfest on Tuesday, June 30.