October Horrorshow: House at the End of the Street

The older I get, the less patience I have for teen movies. I’m turning crotchety. Know what? I prefer the curmudgeonly proprietor of Missile Test to the angsty teen who, once upon a time, would have liked this movie. I welcome the growing gulf between teenagers and myself. But what a conflict this presents. I love horror flicks, and the horror and teen genres exist in a symbiotic relationship that has paid dividends throughout the length and breadth of cinematic history. What to do when I cross paths with a movie like House at the End of the Street, a psychological horror flick that is decidedly youth-oriented. I put on my objective cap and judge the film on its merits, that’s what.

In this film, Jennifer Lawrence and her mom (Elisabeth Shue) move into a house in the swanky part of some town, somewhere (it’s Canada). A few years before, the house next door was the scene of a grisly murder, where a psychotic girl butchered her parents. Welcome to the neighborhood, Jennifer and Jennifer’s mom.

It turns out the house is still occupied, by the son of the two murder victims. Jennifer Lawrence, being the newcomer in town, strikes up a romance with the new neighbor (Max Thieriot), despite every sensible person in the town being a bit creeped out by the kid. It’s a bit like Romeo and Juliet, if all of Romeo’s family were dead. Jennifer Lawrence’s neighbor, it turns out, is creepy. He keeps his sister, the same one that murdered their parents, locked up in a secret room in the basement. Trouble ensues when she repeatedly escapes from her confinement. There’s a fair bit more going on in the story, but to reveal any more would be to reveal too much. But there is plenty of peripheral stuff in the plot to bitch about.

The other people in Jennifer Lawrence’s new town may have reservations about her neighbor that turn out to be well founded, but that doesn’t stop everyone outside Jennifer Lawrence’s little circle from being a bunch of jerks. The first fellow teen she encounters turns out to be a would-be rapist, my least favorite character trope in cinema. His friends are assholes, and all their parents are assholes. Everyone but Jennifer and her deluded love interest are assholes. It’s almost like the film is told from the perspective of a teenager, and a particularly insufferable one at that. These days, it’s hard for me to tell.

The film takes its sweet time getting going, but that’s not a fault. Rather, this film has an intelligent pace, designed to build suspense. The fact the payoff for all this buildup wasn’t all that interesting…that’s a fault. The film just doesn’t live up to its promise. But, if taut psychological thrillers were easy to make, everyone would make them, right?

What a viewer is confronted with is some boilerplate horror, only with a distinct lack of gore. It doesn’t commit any egregious crimes against film, but nothing about it stands out. It’s the answer to a trivia question, all because of its star.

This film was destined to be a rather anonymous horror flick. But then Jennifer Lawrence got famous. The Hunger Games was released in the United States in March of 2012. This movie, despite wrapping in 2010, was released in September of 2012, and shamelessly promoted the presence of its new megastar. That pushed what would probably have been a poor box office into a real winner. I can’t wait for the sequel.