Relativity Media releases House at the End of the Street this Friday, September 21st. The PG-13 thriller from director Mark Tonderai (Hush) stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) Max Thieriot (My Soul To Take) and Elizabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas, Adventures In Babysitting).
Myself and a few other journalists sat down with Tonderai a few days ago and spoke to him at length about the film, how he came to cast Lawrence and Thieriot and the intensive “bible” he created for the film. We also talked about his love of Hitchock, which is evident when you see the film.
In the film, “Seeking a fresh start, newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) find the house of their dreams in a small, upscale, rural town. But when startling and unexplainable events begin to happen, Sarah and Elissa learn the town is in the shadows of a chilling secret. Years earlier, in the house next door, a daughter killed her parents in their beds, and disappeared – leaving only a brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), as the sole survivor. Against Sarah’s wishes, Elissa begins a relationship with the reclusive Ryan – and the closer they get, the deeper they’re all pulled into a mystery more dangerous than they ever imagined.“
Looking at the film, I think it’s safe to say you’re influenced by Hitchcock. “It’s true, I am. And he’s got that great quote, ‘I try to play the audience like a piano.’ Which is what I try to do. I think that’s why the film works, that manipulation of the audience. And audiences are so smart, they know what they’ve seen before. They’ve seen all of these permutations so how do you get ahead of that? That’s what I was trying to do with this story. Hitchcock for me is the master.”
Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3) is credited with the story, how did the film develop from there? “He developed it with Richard Kelly (‘Donnie Darko’) but [there were some elements] in the original script I didn’t want to do. He wasn’t really involved in the development, he gave me a few notes about the original screenplay [‘Scream, Pretty Peggy’] but not much more than that. Aaron Ryder and Peter Block were the ones involved in development.”
How did you come to cast Max Thieriot and Jennifer Lawrence? “You’ve seen his eyes, right? I wanted someone who had the pain of the world in their eyes. He has that naturally. Paul Newman had that as well. And I wanted an actor like that, it was hard to find. Jennifer I always knew I wanted. I had seen ‘Winter’s Bone’ and she was amazing. She’s a great kid, she was very young when she did our film. She came in and knocked [the audition] out of the park. And then of course she got nominated for the Academy Award and got ‘Hunger Games’, the move gods were smiling upon us.”
What was their chemistry like on set? “ I remember when they had to do the kissing scene, I didn’t have to yell action. They were kissing, I was thinking, ‘Okay, that’s interesting.’ You can’t know that until you know it. You really believe in them and the situation with this kid and that she would fall for him.”
Aside from (and including) the script, you had a film bible on set. “Truthfully, when I get a script, it’s not about the plotting because plotting you can fix. It’s about what the film is trying to say. I just had a kid and this film was about talking about a parent’s love and how it can hurt you and how it can shape the person you are. I didn’t want to hit the audience in the head with it, but it was a good theme to start with. We all agree on a theme. Once you have everyone on the same page, you do the character work. That spins off into the production side, the costume, designs, make-up. Then you go right on through that bible right to distribution, how you sell the film is so important. It’s an impossibly long process, two years of my life. The film’s been sitting in the can on the shelf for a year so we could let The Hunger Games run its cycle. It was frustrating for me.”