SEPTEMBER 20, 2012
The first time I saw a trailer for House At The End Of The Street (somewhat portentously referred to as "HATES" on Twitter), I thought "This looks like another Dream House", referring to that time-waster's "What REALLY happened in that house?" plot and hints at big twists that probably wouldn't make up for the running in circles required to make them work. However, I just now realized that the two films were written by screenwriter David Loucka, and since both are so lackluster, I don't think I'm going to allow him a chance at a third strike. Though he wrote The Dream Team, which I quite liked, so I dunno. Maybe he should just stick to Michael Keaton comedies and leave horror/thriller to those who are a little better at it.
Then again who knows who is to blame for this movie's script, as it has seemingly been through a lot of changes in the past NINE years when it was first announced as a project between Jonathan Mostow (directing) and Richard Kelly (writing). Kelly's name is nowhere to be found now, but Mostow has story credit with Loucka getting solo screenplay honors. Add in what was most likely a producer/studio insisted PG-13 rating, and you have a film that's been way too overcooked to have much of a chance of really working.
Now, I don't like to harp on the PG-13 horror films - many of them have worked quite well and you don't need gore to be scary or tell a good story. But in this particular case, the story almost REQUIRES the ability to go into some dark territory - once we know what the villain has been up to, it's actually kind of disturbing... but only on paper. In the actual film, it's sandpapered down to a mere nub, presented in far too safe of a way to really be effective, even to the younger audience who probably won't bother to take the time to think about what the villain was doing. Indeed, the crowd I saw it with was skewed to the teen side, and while they were shrieking at the film's many jump scares (no one ever walks through a door in this movie unless something happens to them immediately after - to be fair one of them actually gave me a jolt), as the film went on they were giggling more often than not, and the mock gasps when the twist was revealed outweighed the real ones.
It also gives its supporting cast absolutely nothing to do; usually you have to watch every season of a long-running serial program to see this many dropped subplots. Jennifer Lawrence quickly makes friends with another girl and joins her band, but both of them disappear at the end of the second act, never to be mentioned again. Gil Bellows' cop character (one of the least effective police officers in history, I might add) is introduced mid-scene, and somehow becomes best friends with Lawrence's mother (Elizabeth Shue) as we see his cell phone only has three numbers with hers being one - what's up with that? And I can't explain in detail without giving away the twist, but there's a giant unanswered question that seems like it would have made for a huge part of the 3rd act reveals, and is instead ignored entirely.
Basically, the movie lacks any details. It's almost a surprise they bothered giving anyone a name - seems a bit too specific compared to everything else. Lawrence is solid, giving her character more spunk and wit than similar characters have gotten in recent thriller fare, but everyone else (even Shue) might as well be the anonymous peasants you meet in role playing games - they have one bit of information to provide, and that's it. I knew it was going to be Lawrence's show, but it's ridiculous how little the other characters seem to matter in the long run, not to mention how infrequently they interact - Bellows and Lawrence never even meet.
Also, director Mark Tonderai (who, oddly enough, wrote and directed Hush, which was a lot like Mostow's Breakdown) apparently misplaced his tripod for most of the shooting schedule, so bring your Dramamine. As with the PG-13 rating, there's a time and place to employ shaki-cam, but Lawrence and Shue talking about dinner or Lawrence playing out one of the 57 scenes in the movie where she hears a noise are not among them. He even tosses in a ridiculous 360 scene when folks are talking about that most exciting of topics: REAL ESTATE! Does it ever occur to folks to just make their story more interesting rather than move the camera around a lot to make the dull scenes seem more exciting?
But really, its biggest crime is that it's completely mediocre. You might miss some of the details, naturally, but anyone who has seen a few thrillers could probably tell you more or less exactly how the film will play out after about 15 minutes. And that is the worst thing that could happen to this type of movie - the element of surprise is too essential for thrillers, and this plays it overly safe at every single turn (including the non-death of a character seemingly killed). I'd love to see what earlier drafts looked like, before all of its personality and danger was excised for one reason or another, until all that was left was this well intentioned but completely hollow husk.
What say you?
P.S. This was shot in 2010 and the copyright is 2011, which means that it was just sitting on a shelf somewhere, likely unearthed only because Lawrence starred in one of the year's highest grossing films. Thanks a lot, Hunger Games!