By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – If House at the End of the Street were a house, it would not be without curb appeal but would still be in need of repair.
Generic and uneven to the point of distraction, this initially watchable but eventually disposable horror flick holds serve in the early going, then falls apart in the third act when the characters begin acting with ludicrous arbitrariness.
Elisabeth Shue plays Sarah, the recently and bitterly divorced mother of teenager Elissa, played by the suddenly ubiquitous and naturally luminous Jennifer Lawrence (who shot the film before The Hunger Games). Together, they’ve moved from Chicago and made a fresh start in a house they really like in a small Pennsylvania town.
But as soon as they move in, strange events begin occurring very close by.
What they eventually discover is that their neighbors and the other residents of this pleasant little town are sitting on a very unpleasant secret about the supposedly empty house next door.
Years ago, a daughter murdered her parents in that house, bludgeoning them to death as they slept in their beds. Then she disappeared, leaving behind the sole survivor, her brother Ryan, played by Max Thieriot, who, it turns out, is still living in the house.
When Elissa befriends Ryan despite her protective mother’s warnings, Sarah understandably objects, driving a bit of a wedge between them.
Debuting director Mark Tonderai, working from a screenplay by David Loucka and Jonathan Mostow that takes a few unexpected turns, gets appropriate and effective work from Lawrence, Shue, and Thieriot, but too often bathes in the sensationalism. There are certainly suspenseful moments along the way, but the narrative mostly seems an excuse to line up a parade of shock scares, some of which work and some of which do not.
And in the cribbing-versus-homage debate, let’s just say that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho seems to have been a major inspiration for House at the End of the Street and leave it at that.
When all is said and done, we’re done with what the film has said because it doesn’t add up in any kind of satisfying way. Like chess pieces breaking the rules of the game, the characters have been maneuvered this way and that without following the film’s internal logic.
So we’ll scare up 2 stars out of 4. House at the End of the Street is a fixer upper that never got fixed up.
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