This film would probably not exist in theaters if it weren’t for the success of The Hunger Games, which also stars Jennifer Lawrence. House at the End of the Street presents itself as a creepy slasher flick, but the reality is something closer to a psychological thriller aimed at teens. While House at the End of the Street does offer a few genuinely unsettling moments, the film doesn’t quite have what it takes to deliver horror. Instead, its objective is muddled by attempts at character building, too few scares and too many laughable coincidences and actions that betray any sense of self-preservation in the characters.
Elissa (Lawrence) and her mother, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) move into their new rented home next to a house where a double murder occurred four years prior. At that time a little girl butchered her parents with a knife before running off into the woods. Now, the only surviving member of that family is the son, Ryan (Max Thieriot), who was thankfully staying with a relative when the murders occurred. Grown into a college-aged young man, Ryan has moved back into his family’s home, attracting the eye of Elissa, who seems disgusted with everyone else her age. To her, Ryan is mysterious and misunderstood by the rest of the community who revile him. But do those people actually have good cause to dislike Ryan? And is Ryan’s little sister actually still missing or does he know exactly where she is?
Several issues work against House at the End of the Street and keep the film from being effective. First, the PG-13 rating ensures that nothing too scary is going to happen. There’s very little gore and a low body count. Most of the violence happens off screen or is presented in an artistic manner. Early in the film when a man is being stabbed to death while lying in bed, audiences don’t actually see the stabbing. Instead, they get the bloodied down softly falling from the bottom of the now punctured mattress and bed foundation Yes, it’s probably the longest knife in the world. Second, there are too many silly moments that defy logic. A police officer’s flashlight is unreliable, yet he takes it with him into a dangerous situation where he never radios for backup or reports his location. Other times, characters will answer mysterious knocks at doors in the dead of night. They crack open shades, see no one, and then swing the door open wide to step outside and investigate. Third, there just isn’t enough horror. Expect long stretches where the film simply develops the characters and their relationships without so much as a cat jumping out of the shadows to keep audiences on edge.
The fear in the film never reaches terror, but audiences will still startle in their seats as a knife-wielding lunatic runs past the screen. The faulty flashlight comes in handy during a pitch black scene as the light flickers in and out, with audiences cringing whenever the light comes back on, knowing that the killer could appear in front of them at any moment. It’s worth noting that this is the kind of film that needs to be seen with an audience to really get the most out of the film. While the inane characters can’t be helped, the theater audience can heighten the experience with their groans, shifting in seats and silent eye-rolling whenever a character willfully reduces their chances at survival – including the killer.
Jennifer Lawrence is the best part of the film, offering a pleasant mix of strength and vulnerability. Her acting is effortless and always believable. On the other hand, this isn’t a very challenging role. Elisabeth Shue also offers a strong performance, making the most of her few dramatic scenes, but she’s mostly reduced to playing the overbearing mother. Despite the serviceable acting and a few well-written exchanges, however, the actors just aren’t enough to save the film from itself, and audiences are ultimately left with something that is neither truly scary nor completely satisfying. Younger audiences and those who don’t like too much gore and violence may want to check out House at the End of the Street, but everyone else can let this one pass without missing too much.