By Mark Jenkins
Saturday, September 22, 2012
“Everything has a secret,” an introverted boy informs an inquisitive girl in “House At The End of the Street,” the latest home-gone-wrong thriller. And what’s the movie’s secret? Well, anyone who’s seen “Psycho” will discern it fairly quickly.
This violent but not terribly bloody thriller boasts a few nice touches. The relationship between moderately rebellious 17-year-old Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and her justifiably apprehensive mother Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) is plausible, even if the events that test their relationship are not. And while the two are forced through the standard blonde-victim gauntlet, not all women are casualties in this tale. The film also provides a few moments of agreeably self-mocking humor, notably when a dispensable character enters an eerie, dark house with a failing flashlight. D’oh!
Most of the comedy, however, is unintentional. “House At The End of the Street” may not draw much of an audience during its initial run, but the movie’s preposterousness certifies it for future midnight screenings, where the story will get the jeering it deserves.
That story begins with what seems to be the murder of two people by their young daughter, Carrie Ann. To judge from the trippy footage, which simulates the killer’s point of view, Carrie Ann is either completely stoned or demonically possessed. But maybe there’s another explanation. After all, every double homicide has a secret.
Four years later, Sarah and Elissa move into a nearby mini-mansion, fleeing Chicago and Mom’s failed marriage. They’re told that nobody lives in the home they can see through the woods, whose creepiness has earned them a reduced rent. They soon learn, though, that Carrie Ann’s brother Ryan (Max Thieriot) remains in the house. And that some local teens are partial to the exurban legend that Carrie Ann, who’s supposed to be dead, actually dwells in the nearby woods.
Elissa is introduced to a hunky high-school classmate with a reputation for philanthropy, but quickly learns that he’s a fraud. So she switches her romantic interest to Ryan, who’s sensitive and wounded. Sarah worries that her daughter’s nurturing instincts will lead her into trouble. She’s right, although she has no idea how serious the trouble will be. Serious, that is, if it weren’t so absurd.
Rather than deal in supernatural shocks, the movie looks to mid-20th-century Hollywood, when filmmakers discovered that Freudian psychology could be played for chills. Director Mark Tonderai (“Hush”) and scripter David Loucka (“Dream House”) have crafted a tale that can be analyzed with such terms as “transference” and “narcissism.”
Not that “House At The End of the Street” merits much analysis. Indeed, “Hunger Games” fans might conclude that what the film really needs is a sturdy bow and a few well-aimed arrows. And a reliable flashlight, of course.
Contains violence, scares, profanity and drug use.