Saturday Fright Night Fever #5 – “House at the end of the street”

Well, this is awkward… It’s more of a standard nowadays to see that now well-renowned and acclaimed actors have started out in cheap genre flicks, but it sure looks odd when an Oscar-nominated (at the time) star shows up on a poster of what looks to be a run-of-the-mill horror. I mean, what could possibly entice someone like Jennifer Lawrence (with all the gongs she scored over these past few years) to look at a script for “House at the end of the street” and think it would be nice to star in it? Did she lose a bet or something? I know it’s not uncommon for big guys to do things like that, but there always is a reason for it, like a big-shot producer, an awesome genre-redefining script, or a fantastic director shooting a passion project, because he’s always wanted to do something like that.

I figured that “House at the end of the street” should be something else and with zero prior knowledge (not even a trailer) about it, I proceeded to watch it… Yeah, it was something else alright… Not that I expected much, but what I have just witnessed is simply reprehensible and we should ostracize the people responsible for letting this film happen, so that no-one ever makes that mistake again.

The-House-At-The-End-Of-The-Street-DVD-review

Right, so “House at the end of the street” can be quickly summarized as a story about a mom (Elizabeth Shue) and her daughter (Jennifer Lawrence), who for whatever reason want to start their lives anew and in order to do that they move in to a nice little house on the outskirts of a small town. They clearly have some emotional baggage with them, which surfaces all too often during pretty much any conversation, but they want to be a happy family once more. Very quickly into the film, they discover that the place they’ve moved into lies just a stone’s throw away from an abandoned house where many years ago a brutal murder had been committed and a local urban (rural?) legend has it that the person responsible never got caught and still roams the local forests. The ladies don’t really buy into all those scary stories and continue on with their lives, but very soon they become aware that the house at the end of the street is not abandoned at all…

First of all, whoever labeled “House at the end of the street” as a horror should really rethink their actions (Netflix, I’m looking at you…). Well, it does start off very convincingly, but very soon into the film almost all the cards are on the table and the entire sense of mystery and danger dissipates in an instant. Basically, the whole premise of the story completely precludes any sense of threat from building up and we are stuck watching Jennifer Lawrence be an overgrown teenager for a while.

Granted, in the very beginning I was thinking “House at the end of the street” could make a half-decent slasher between Jennifer Lawrence as the unlikely heroine and all the genre references to “Friday the 13th and other classics. Hell, I even thought we might have a supernatural element on our hands in here and however dumb it would come across, it would still provide the much needed atmosphere in this otherwise bland and lifeless spectacle. However, in spite of all my good wishes, “House at the end of the street” decided not to grow up to become a full-fledged horror, but rather to fall off the wagon and after a string of affairs with one too many genre clichésto end up a mediocre tasteless thriller with vestigial atmosphere and only a handful of pretty predictable scares, to boot.

The way I understand it, “House at the end of the street”  must have been conceived as a twist that needed to be garnished with some sort of a story. Well, while I do appreciate the effort and the twist on its own is just fine (not quite original, but it works), the idea of building a run-of-the-mill generic story around it, filled with one-dimensional characters and sappy dialogue is never going to make it look like a good movie. Sprinkling some scares won’t help either, because if there’s no build-up, no threat, no mystery or danger, then the scares are just annoying.

 

I have no problem with horrors being rather predictable as such, so long as they play on my emotions. Well, this one doesn’t, which immediately made me notice all the conveniently placed props and plot devices (malfunctioning flashlights and other Chekhov’s guns) and register them as eye-gougingly irritating. As a result, all the scares are all the more predictable, the twist doesn’t really catch you unawares, and you end up laughing at the characters’ poor decision-making and their shoddy development.

At this point, I don’t even know whether this film would have worked had it been for some minor changes here and there. As it stands, “House at the end of the street” fails across the board in creating an experience worth watching. It doesn’t matter that the film sports a top class cast if the dialogues, the pacing and the story progression are simply dumb. Some films are unsalvageable and will remain stupid with or without Al Pacino. Sure, it’s my responsibility for agreeing to sit through all of this, because I somehow believed “House at the end of the street” would have something more to offer in the end, but it doesn’t. It was just a playground for some really good actors to have a little break from all the heavy-handed dramas aimed at the Oscars and such. It’s official: flickering lights in a basement, an old house, a mad person on the loose and five (!) jump scares don’t make a horror and this is something Mark Tonderai needs to learn if he wants to direct genre films.

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