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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

House at the End of the Street (review)

House at the End of the Street red light Jennifer Lawrence Max Thieriot

I’m “biast” (pro): love Jennifer Lawrence

I’m “biast” (con): very tired of unimaginative horror movies

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

As I awoke myself* and stumbled from the multiplex after my public screening of the not-screened-for-critics** House at the End of the Street, I tweeted that the scariest thing about the flick is wondering what on Earth possessed the awesome and powerful Jennifer Lawrence to take on such a role. And I was almost instantly alerted, by my wonderfully clued-in Twitter followers, to the fact that this movie actually predates The Hunger Games. In fact — as I discovered during some Googling — shooting on House began only weeks after Winter’s Bone got its initial very limited release, and months before the wholly warranted Jennifer Lawrence lovefest commenced during 2010’s awards season, culminating in the actress’s well-deserved Oscar nomination. So she wasn’t yet the golden It Girl she is today.

And still… the scariest thing about House at the End of the Street is that this sort of junk is considered a good career move for a young actress who’s just come off a small film from a respected indie director and, indeed, already had a slew of respectable TV and indie credits before that. Options for commanding young female actors should not be so limited in Hollywood. How is it possible that no one has the vision to carve a regular space for badass girls?

Because this right here? This is banal, lazy filmmaking that cannot even be bothered to be cheerfully cheap and cheesy, which is, for some horror fans, more than enough. It is, however, still stuck in the same-old put-the-pretty-girl-in-jeopardy rut, which means that Jennifer Lawrence is trapped in something that is constitutionally unable to allow her to be the strong, competent young woman she arrived as. It’s just not within the genetic makeup of a story like this.

But wait! Here you get two women in jeopardy! There’s Lawrence’s high-schooler Elissa and her mom, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue: Hope Springs, Hamlet 2), who’ve just moved into this unnamed semi-rural neighborhood, where the next house down, the house at the end of the street, was the scene of a double murder a few years earlier. (IMDB commenters celebrate a “hot” mother-daughter pairing. I despair of yet another fantastic actress and screen presence, in Shue, who should be getting meatier roles than what she’s saddled with here.) Both mother and daughter think it’s weird and creepy how the other oh-so Stepford residents villify college student Ryan (Max Thieriot: Chloe, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) for living in the house where his little sister allegedly killed their parents… but still, Mom does not want Elissa hanging around with Ryan too much, and certainly not the two of them alone in either house. And as for Ryan’s family… well, you don’t even need to have seen many horror films to know that there’s more there than we’ve yet heard.

Helicopter parenting and how kids fight it is as close to a theme or a subtext that screenwriters David Loucka and Jonathan Mostow (U-571, Breakdown) aim for, and it’s about the only thing that connects the first chunk of the film — the narcoleptic initial 60 minutes — with the WTF finale, which turns on a “twist” you will have guessed within about 30 seconds of hearing Ryan’s story if you’ve seen any horror films before. Not that I mean to imply that the film deals in any sort of interesting way with overbearing parents: it does not. Indeed, House commits the most unforgivable crime of any movie: it’s about what it’s about in the most obvious, uninteresting way possible, offering us no new ideas to ponder and not even a slight variation on any old ideas. It’s hard to see what, if anything, director Mark Tonderai was trying to convey beyond, Uhhh, pretty girl! Pretty girl in danger! Uhhh! like some sort of cinematic Igor compelled to put her in danger yet powerless to stop it.

Seeing a talent like Lawrence — and Shue, to a lesser degree, if only because of her smaller role here — plopped into the umpteenth repetition of this familar charade only highlights its limitations. And it doesn’t even do that in an unintentionally interesting way, either.

*Disclaimer: I’m exaggerating. I have never actually fallen asleep during a movie.
**In the U.K. In New York and Los Angeles, at least, there was a screening on the evening before it opened.

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House at the End of the Street (2012)
US/Can release: Sep 21 2012
UK/Ire release: Sep 21 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated CM (deserves cinematic foreclosure)
MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, thematic elements, language, some teen partying and brief drug material
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong violence, threat and hard drug use)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • To be fair, Jennifer Lawrence shot this film right before she did X-Men: First Class and way before The Hunger Games, which shot a year after this pic. She has to pay her bills like everyone else does… sometimes taking on a lead role in a terrible B-thriller is a big step for better things for her.

    It’s safe to say that with a hawk-eyed agent and the money rolling in from future HG and X-Men films — she won’t ever have to pick a terrible film again. Relativity picked it up, and saw $$$ signs once The Hunger Games became a smash hit. They really emphasized her involvement in the film, and luckily she was either too busy with the HG sequel or chose not to do press rounds for this pic.

    It’s a shame this film was awful… she was the BEST thing about the film, but even she can’t elevate that piss-poor script.

  • torrent56

    “Indeed, House commits the most unforgivable crime of any movie: it’s about what it’s about in the most obvious, uninteresting way possible, offering us no new ideas to ponder and not even a slight variation on any old ideas.”

    As a supposedly serious reviewer, could you list what the ideas are in this movie please? Hint: It’s not pretty girl in danger. It was hard to take it seriously when I saw that. You said it’s predictable, but it seems like you actually don’t know what it is.

  • Sorry, but six years on, I do not recall the details. Why don’t you tell us all about how I got this movie wrong?

  • torrent56

    Given that the comment section is open, I believed it wasn’t inappropriate to comment.

    OK then the protagonist Elissa isn’t the character with a dark past and the story really isn’t about her running around. The antagonist’s past is the most interesting mystery in the story and there are lots of twists and turns in his story. I am not sure if I can spoil it here, but I will just say his complete story isn’t revealed until the very last scene in the movie before the credits.

  • Given that the comment section is open, I believed it wasn’t inappropriate to comment.

    I didn’t say it was. But that doesn’t mean that your comment will get the response you desire.

    This is an old movie: spoil away. But I would suggest that you don’t understand storytelling if you don’t understand that stories are ABOUT the protagonist. This story is absolutely ABOUT the Jennifer Lawrence character.

    Many movies have antagonists that are more interesting than the protagonists. That’s a failure of the storytelling.

  • torrent56

    |But that doesn’t mean that your comment will get the response you desire.

    OK I don’t expect everyone to agree with me but I as I disagree with some of the reviews, I hope I have politely pointed out why.

    |This story is absolutely ABOUT the Jennifer Lawrence character.

    I am not sure what is your basis for this claim but I have seen plenty of stories, especially in the mysetery/thriller genre, where the goal is to discover the story behind a relatively unknown character or setting and the protagonist serves as a MC. In those cases, the success is measured by how interesting the reveal is.

    Do you mean to say then as long as the protagonist is less interesting than the antagonist, then it’s a failure of the story?

    I find Elissa rather a nice teenage girl but with believable flaws. For example, she found the jock Taylor’s party to be rather obnoxious, but started becoming attracted to the quite guy who gave her a ride when she was soaking wet. We could also talk about her relationship with Sarah for instance.

  • Do you mean to say then as long as the protagonist is less interesting than the antagonist, then it’s a failure of the story?

    That’s exactly what I’m saying.

  • torrent56

    OK I disagree as there are plenty of good stories where the protagonist mainly serves as a viewpoint character for the audience to get to know another more interesting character(s). Typical example: Back to the Future trilogy.

  • Bluejay

    The protagonist and the point-of-view character aren’t always the same thing. The protagonist is the person who drives the story. Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist of the Holmes stories, even though Watson is the narrator and POV character. Hellboy is the protagonist of Hellboy, even though the milquetoast “John Myers” is the POV character. Heathcliff is the protagonist of Wuthering Heights even though Lockwood and others serve as POV narrators. And so on.

    In successful stories where the villains are the most interesting and central characters, those villains ARE the protagonists. Thanos is the protagonist (the story-driver) of Infinity War, with the Avengers serving as the antagonists (the obstacles in his way). But a story that WANTS to be about the protagonist, yet makes them less interesting than the antagonist, fails in its goal.

    Marty McFly is a solid and interesting protagonist of the BTTF trilogy. It’s about HIS predicaments, his funny reactions, and ultimately his personal growth. The audience roots for him and cares about what happens to him. Doc Brown and Biff and all the rest are great secondary characters, but it’s Marty who holds it all together.

  • torrent56

    I think it’s pretty clear that Ryan is meant to be the most interesting and central character since the movie is about uncovering what happened to HIS family. Elissa, whose family history is already known at the start, is more of a viewpoint character who we root for but also to provide insight into what happened to the Jacobson family. The story really revolves around the Jacobsons. Even the first scene of the movie is, guess what, the horrific murders in the Jacobson household and the last scene is on discovering the child abuse Ryan suffered driving him to the murders. Clear?

    About BttF – I don’t disagree with what you said. But you missed the point that the most interesting character in the movies with the most development often is NOT Marty, who serves more as a MC (read the director’s commentary for confirmation here). In part 1 it’s his father George and in part 3 it’s his best friend Doc. Only in part 2 you could even make a case for him being the most interesting/dynamic character.

  • Danielm80

    I think it’s simplistic to say that the most interesting character has to be either the protagonist or the antagonist. In The Silence of the Lambs, the most interesting character is Hannibal Lecter, a supporting character who helps Clarice in her efforts to stop Buffalo Bill. In The Crying Game, the most interesting character is probably the one played by Jaye Davidson, but the conflict is between Stephen Rea and Miranda Richardson. The question is whether the story works on its own terms.

    For you, obviously, this story worked. For MaryAnn, it didn’t. I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t judge one way or another, but MaryAnn has made an effective argument to support her personal, subjective opinion. Your spoilers actually make her argument more convincing, for me, because the film sounds derivative of movies like Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, but my opinion is subjective, too.

    I’m glad—and I say this with no sarcasm—that you enjoyed the movie. You are, of course, welcome to disagree with MaryAnn’s review, if you can make your case politely and effectively. But if you suggest, in your first post, that she’s obtuse or unprofessional or simply a bad critic, without very convincing evidence, you’re not really adding to the discussion. You’re just being insulting.

  • Bluejay

    Confession: I haven’t seen House at the End of the Street, so your disagreements about that film are between you and MaryAnn. I was more interested in discussing your claims about protagonists/antagonists and viewpoint characters in general. :-)

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen BTTF, but it seems clear to me that the movies (at least the first two) are ABOUT Marty. Marty drives the story, not George. You wouldn’t describe the first film as “1950s nerd learns to stand up to bullies, gains confidence, and wins the heart of his crush”; you’d describe it as “modern teenager goes back in time, messes up by having his mom fall in love with him, and tries to get his parents together before he fades out of existence.” George is never presented as the main character, his struggles with shyness are never as interesting as Marty’s predicaments, and his personal development is just a consequence of MARTY’S quest to fix (and improve) the timeline. The second film is a more complicated version of the same thing — Marty messing up the timeline and going to different time periods to fix things.

    You may be right about Part 3 — I remember seeing it in the theater and thinking it odd that so much of the film focused on Doc and his conflicts and decisions, while Marty faded a bit. Taking the film by itself, I suppose it works: Doc has been promoted to protagonist (or co-protagonist) and so the story is ABOUT him. Within the context of the trilogy, it’s a bit odd that the story shifts focus from Marty and turns another character into the protagonist. That’s arguably a failure of consistency.

    Also, what Danielm80 said: there’s no need for hostility, as you displayed right off the bat with your “supposedly serious reviewer” comment.

  • Bluejay

    In The Silence of the Lambs, the most interesting character is Hannibal Lecter, a supporting character who helps Clarice in her efforts to stop Buffalo Bill.

    But the story only works because Clarice Starling is a complex, fascinating, well-drawn protagonist in her own right, which makes her relationship with Lecter a fraught push-and-pull between equals. If the film only offered us an interesting Lecter (who appears onscreen for just 16 minutes) and reduced Clarice to “pretty girl in danger,” it wouldn’t have been nearly as remarkable as it is.

  • Danielm80

    And the movie Hannibal proves your point. I’m just saying that different stories work in different ways, and there’s no ratio of protagonist to antagonist to interesting that works for every film.

  • Bluejay

    There’s no scientific ratio, but I would guess that a boring protagonist whom the audience doesn’t care about would never serve a film well.

  • Typical example: Back to the Future trilogy.

    Explain, please, how BTTF is NOT Marty McFly’s story.

  • torrent56

    You didn’t get what I said in the first post. I say it’s not an effective review because I think it’s simply wrong to say it’s about a girl running around but it’s about a mystery. End of discussion.

    I think it’s rather unconvincing to say a movie is a derivation of another, thus it’s bad. Most movies nowadays burrowed ideas from other and then try to revamp them into something original.

  • torrent56

    It’s not about whose story it is but who the character that had the most growth is. Completely different things actually.

  • torrent56

    I am sorry if you think the post is hostile. I think it’s just really wrong to say it’s about a girl running around if you have seen the movie (and it’s not genuine criticism). That sounds condescending but perhaps I was wrong in interpreting Mary-Ann’s attitude there.

    Marty might be the main character, but it doesn’t necessarily meant he got the most interesting development especially in part 1.

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