Wes Craven’s 1996 Scream was a self-aware reflection on the clichés of horror; a film that should have killed the trite conventions in any genre project thereafter. Scream called out the genre for its lazy tropes, yet, all these years later, films like House at the End of the Street show that many filmmakers haven’t learned a thing. It very well may be the most generic horror film ever made…
Mark Tonderai‘s House at the End of the Street follows a single mom (Elisabeth Sue) and her daughter, Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), who score a sweet deal on a house rental. Apparently, a young girl murdered her parents in the neighboring house, and the son, Ryan (Max Thieriot), continues to keep residence. The locals are all angry because it killed their property value (the real villains, right?). The kids torment Ryan, who lost his entire family, because, you know, kids hate other kids who don’t have parents (it’s completely idiotic). He’s treated as a freak for some reason that’s unclear. Elissa is enamored with him, and begins to spend time with him. Her mother, like the kids at school, also doesn’t trust him. Why? I guess kids who lose their parents are BAD? There’s really no progression in the story until the audience learns that Ryan has been hiding his murderous sister in the basement. From there screenwriters David Loucka and Jonathan Mostow spin their wheels until the final 15 minutes where the film explodes into a tirade of generic twists and turns that had our theater laughing aloud.
House at the End of the Street isn’t a bad film per se, but it’s so bland and so unoriginal that I pretty much figured out the twists by watching the trailers (and had confirmed it with Jonny B about 10 minutes in). There’s really nothing that holds interest, especially since the characters and their actions are so astronomically unbelievable (something that cracks me up because the press notes explain that Tonderai had a character bible on set).
On the horror scale this PG-13 thriller scores a big fat zero, although it has one fairly well staged jump scare. Frankly, the only thing that makes this remotely bearable to watch are the performances by Theiriot and Lawrence (Elisabeth Shue is awkwardly scripted and shockingly miscast).
To call House at the End of the Street original it would have had to have been released in 1959, one year before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho hit theaters. This means that the ideas presented are roughly 50 years too late, leaving audiences in a near coma only to be revived by the various shots of Lawrence’s T&A. While its not bad-bad, it’s just so poorly conceived that it should have premiered on Lifetime.