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'House at the End of the Street' can't find its place

Relativity

By Andrew McClure, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 1, 2012

Sometimes, bad cinema is better appraised when reassigned to a new genre. A slasher-horror film, for example, is egregious in and of itself, but as a farcical comedy it’s a possible blockbuster hit. Dramas, good on their own, can transform into far-fetched melodrama when they take themselves too seriously. This identity crisis perfectly typifies “House at the End of the Street,” a pathetic middle school production with bad makeup, bad dialogue and bad everything else.

Director Mark Tonderai’s (“Hush”) sophomoric effort surely doesn’t reflect his fourteen years in “the game.” Once upon a time, mommy (played without color by Elisabeth Shue, “Leaving Las Vegas”) and daughter Elissa (a brainless Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games”) move into a new house, conveniently next door to a murder-cursed cabin. Unsupported by any motivation, Elissa befriends the surviving son Ryan (played vapidly by Max Thieriot, “Chloe”) whose parents were allegedly slayed by his deranged younger sister.

You can probably fill in the blanks yourself.

The plot complicates itself for the better when things aren’t what they seem — the only problem is the climax comes far too late in the film. All the twists and turns arrive spoiled (and fifteen minutes before the credits roll). This is when smart viewers begin to question that suspiciously succinct IMDB description or that kinda-spooky official theatrical trailer. “House” brims with those moments when something (or everything) is left to be desired. It simply isn’t up-to-snuff in terms of unfolding the plot without thieving previous just-as-bad slasher movies.

A cast of actors contracted mainly from the D-list complements a hackneyed plot. Shame on scriptwriter David Loucka for laying an egg on this one, but it doesn’t equate to the hilarious portrayals of Elissa’s stoner emo-friend, the concerned cop or Ryan himself. Elissa’s friend optimizes her small amount of screen time with juvenile eye-rolling and a gaping mouth. The cop’s only motivation to help out mommy is to hop inside her pants — as a result, his empathic eyebrow-raising and constant consoling makes us sick.

From Ryan’s introduction, he’s painted as a taciturn, sweethearted softie with a dark past. Throughout, he holds true to his two-word-maximum response template. Ryan has exactly one not-depressing line: “Thank you for dinner.” The rest, from start to finish, relates to his slaughtered family, his passion for writing at 4 a.m., or how his mom was a crack whore. He’s the kid who got picked on in high school for being “weird.” Unfortunately, in this case, the bullies aren’t reprehensible.

“House” speaks poorly on behalf of all movies, but probably speaks fairly on behalf of movies of its kind — you know, the shitty horror flicks that only draw audiences because of a topless co-ed scene or two. Had the studios decided to spin “House” as a comedic offering, it would’ve shined by leaps and bounds. It has all the makings: a mysterious McDreamy, painfully stupid surrounding characters and a rebellious heroine. Dave Chappelle may have slept through auditions, but boy — he would’ve made quite a splash in this.


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