Movie Review: “House at the End of the Street”

ImageA horror movie might seem an oddly unambitious choice for rising starlet Jennifer Lawrence at this stage of her career. She’s been in one franchise (“X-Men: First Class”), launched another (“The Hunger Games”) and is earning serious Oscar buzz for her turn playing disturbed in “The Silver Linings Playbook.”

But “House at the End of the Street” is a conventional thriller packed with jaw-dropping surprises. And Lawrence adds a few new wrinkles to her already impressive repertoire in a film that could have been just another scare-the-teens genre piece.

Elissa (Lawrence) and her newly-divorced doctor mom (Elisabeth Shue) have just moved to Architectural Digest-worthy home on the edge of a state park in the town of Woodbridge. They were able to afford it, Mom tells us, because of what happened next door, “at the Jacobson house.” We’ve already seen that in the prologue — a young girl murdered her parents there four years before.

Elissa is a teenage contradiction — an open-faced, open-hearted girl who seems to tell her mother everything, yet who remains in a state of revolt against Mom. She’s not sullen and testy. She’s curious, direct and brash. That’s why she strikes up a friendship with the shunned son of the family that was murdered, Ryan (Max Thierot). She’s leery, but she’s not afraid of him, of flirting with him. Lawrence lets us see Elissa calculating and re-calculating risks. She’s the first “normal” teen Lawrence has played — an aspiring musician, every bit as sarcastic as her peers.

“You wanna come sing with us?” a guy in a band pleads.

“And if you suck?” she snaps back.

The kids in town steer clear of Ryan, who is college age. Their parents hate what he and his house have done to property values. But Elissa sees his sensitive side and in blunt ways only a teen would think of, queries him about his history and about “that night” those four years before.

Elissa has what it takes to push Ryan’s flashback button.

Actor turned director Mark Tonderai put a lot of effort into tone, setting many scenes in the gathering gray of twilight. David Loucka’s script has the luxury of making its first big revelation early, allowing the film to tease us along in a gathering sense of dread. There’s guilt, regret, the weight of taking on responsibility too young.

Shue and Lawrence create a layered mother-daughter conflict, allowing for surprises in their relationship. That pairing pays dividends far beyond any physical resemblance, as Shue is having a 40something renaissance — choosing roles, big and small, wisely. She gets sparks out of Lawrence, especially in scenes where Sarah tries to control the 17 year old Elissa. What were you two doing?

“We dropped ‘shrooms and had unprotected sex!”

Yup, raising a teenager can be a bloodsport.

And Thierot lends a touch of Ryan Phillippe to his performance, a vulnerable, damaged good-looking boy who is catnip for any girl looking for a “project.”

Once or twice “House” stumbles into the sort of abrupt, under-motivated actions and plot twists that separate the good thrillers from the great ones. But by the third act, you or someone sitting near you will be whispering, muttering or just plain shouting at the screen. And when it’s all over, you have to wonder when and if Lawrence will make that first false step in a career that burst out of nowhere with “Winter’s Bone.” This isn’t it.

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and brief drug material

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thierot

Credits: Directed by Mark Tonderai, written by David Loucka and based on a Jonathan Mostow story. A Relativity release.

Running time: 1:40

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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2 Responses to Movie Review: “House at the End of the Street”

  1. edward says:

    Roger, poor poor research. Her performance was underwhelming in this flick and it was actually filmed before Winters Bone so this is one of her first lead roles, so you’d have to revise your whole review, since this was done before hunger games, winters bone, x-men…still her performance is nothing remarkable as it wasnt in Silver linings

    • EdwardB, why don’t YOU do some research before hitting “send”? Hmm?
      How hard is it to look this up? “Winter’s Bone” was filmed in a long stretch starting in the spring of 2009, which is why it was at Sundance in January of 2010. I know. I interviewed Lawrence/director et al. When “Bone” was released — summer, 2011.
      “House/Street” was a post-Sundance hire — filmed in the summer of 2010. Delayed, yes. But her first big offer post-“Bone.”
      Before “X-Men.” Which was a bloody year later.
      Kind of derails YOUR whole premise for abusing the movie, yes? Feel free to apologize whilst I hold my breath waiting for it.

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