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 clichĂ©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 clichĂ© 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 Jan. 31, 2015
If you're going to see one movie about a dandy, mustachioed gentleman on a caper involving stolen artwork and featuring an appearance by Jeff Goldblum, make it "The Grand Budapest Hotel." However, if you're going to see two movies about a dandy, mustachioed gentleman on a caper involving stolen artwork and featuring an appearance by Jeff Goldblum ... eh, maybe it's best to just watch "The Grand Budapest Hotel" a second time.
Published Jan. 30, 2015
Started in 2011, Jon Mueller's Death Blues is a multi-media performance project taking on the idea of death, the idea that our lives are finite, and using those realizations "as impetus to become more present in each moment." Before its finale, "Ensemble," hits the Pitman Theatre stage Saturday night, I had a chat with Mueller about the project's origins, records, the state of music - and those who consume it - and life after Death Blues.
Published Jan. 29, 2015
After a little more than a decade under its belt, it seems Cold War Kids are still musically toying around a bit with what it wants to be when it grows up. But according to frontman Nathan Willett, it feels pretty close to now.
Published Jan. 27, 2015
Over 30 years after the event - but just in time for today's headlines - local filmmakers Michael T. Vollmann (the Wisconsin Film Festival-winning short "Before You") and Chris James Thompson ("The Jeffrey Dahmer Files") are putting the true story of a group of young Milwaukee hackers back in the spotlight with their new short documentary "The 414s: The Original Teenage Hackers."
Published Jan. 26, 2015
The brand new event is a weekend-long local music extravaganza running from Friday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 1, with 70 bands and 15 artists spread across three neighborhoods -- Bay View, Riverwest and the East Side -- and 15 venues. If that sounds cool, its motives (besides providing a ton of music) are even more so.
Published Jan. 26, 2015
As a gender-swapped sexy stalker thriller in the vein of "Fatal Attraction," "The Boy Next Door" is about as dead in the water as Michael Douglas' infamous pet bunny. However, as a tawdry slab of silly, giggle-inducing camp, "The Boy Next Door" scores more laughs than most intentional comedies. There's entertainment to be found here - cue the cookie-related innuendos - just never particularly of the variety the filmmakers were going for.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
It doesn't take long into George Lucas' bizarre new animated movie "Strange Magic" to ask "What the heck am I watching?" Not shortly after, that question turns into "Why the heck am I still watching this?" It's hard to rationalize a good answer for either.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
After the Sony hack forced "The Interview" out of its prime Christmas release slot, "Blackhat" seemed to be perfectly primed to take its place. Alas, Universal kept the film in January. And maybe that was for the best, because even with its timely sounding synopsis, "Blackhat" plays like a relic, recalling less the anxiety of today's headlines and more the warmed-over memories of yesterday's forgettable action junk and silly techno-trash.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
A day before the Common Council meets to vote on the Milwaukee streetcar plan, advocates and opponents made their final pushes to gain public support or enough signatures for a referendum.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
"Selma" is much more accomplished than "timely" gives it credit - or that its award season release and Important Movie surface may imply. It may appear like yet another Great Man Oscar bait biopic. Instead, it plays exactly like what many of those films are desperately reaching to be: a deeply powerful and deftly nuanced movie, one that beautifully captures the man and his mission with clear eyes, leaving viewers with teary ones thoroughly earned.