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 clichÃ©s. 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 clichÃ© 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 April 1, 2015
An embarrassing typo in the Milwaukee Film Festival's press materials has transformed the usual fall movie set piece into a nightmare of creepers and people in uncomfortable trench coats.
Published March 31, 2015
There's a movie out in theaters starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, and nobody cares. This seems impossible. And then I actually saw "Serena," and ooooooh, it all makes so much sense now.
Published March 30, 2015
Flying is statistically the safest form of transportation. It's a popular sentiment, one commonly recited to restore confidence in the important industry after tragic disasters like the deadly Germanwings crash last week. For "Pilot Error" writer and film producer Roger Rapoport, however, that statement isn't as accurate as we'd like to think.
Published March 29, 2015
For a lot of Hollywood, making a kids movie translates out to making essentially a mobile: a simply distracting mix of color and sound. And that's how you get "Home," another manic Sweet Tarts-colored whizbang to be mentally tossed away like an empty popcorn bucket as soon as the film lets out. Yes, the kids will be sated. For anyone older, however, the cue to leave "Home" to go home likely won't come soon enough.
Published March 26, 2015
By most definitions, director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's "Dune" to the big screen in the mid-'70s was a failure. The filmmaker's furiously inventive and imaginative movie never made it to the big screen, but man ... what a trip it would've been, at least certainly judging by Frank Pavich's hypnotically fascinating documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune," showing tonight at 7 p.m. at the UWM Union Theatre.
Published March 25, 2015
I'm starting to get concerned about Jack O'Connell. First there was "Starred Up," in which he plays a violent prison inmate; then he starred in the two-hour beatdown-palooza that was "Unbroken." And now there's "'71," which doesn't even get five seconds in before it's punching O'Connell in the face and dragging him through mud. If he insists on essentially self-flagellating on screen, though, at least it's in the service of a quite good movie.
Published March 25, 2015
2015 is shaping up to be a world tour of beloved classic rock stars. The Rolling Stones are expected to announce a Milwaukee stop ... at some point. Ringo Starr is heading to the Riverside in October, the same month The Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Also celebrating 50 years of existence: Pink Floyd, hitting the Riverside stage Thursday and Friday night. Well, kind of - in the form of tribute band Brit Floyd.
Published March 23, 2015
If "Divergent" was like "The Hunger Games" took a brick to the head, then "Insurgent" plays like "The Hunger Games" got lost in a brick hail storm. The sequel doubles down on the idiocy, incoherence and creative kleptomania the first film struggled through. Part one made it palatable; part two makes it laughable.
Published March 21, 2015
Early on in the 2014-15 season, the Milwaukee Rep staged "The Color Purple." It's a show actress Felicia P. Fields knows very well; after all, her turn as Sofia in the Broadway musical scored her a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical back in 2006. It's another familiar show, however, that brings Fields back to Milwaukee: "Low Down Dirty Blues," a celebration of classic blues at its deepest and dirtiest.
Published March 21, 2015
Vampires have gotten a bad rap over the last decade or so,but while the recent vampire trend has provided some pretty craterous, sell-out lows, it's also spawned a fair amount of impressive highs for the notorious neck-nibblers. For example: "What We Do in the Shadows," a hilarious New Zealand import that gushes goofy laughs like a comedy hemophiliac.