Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: The House At The End Of The Street

PG-13 horror doesn't have to be bad. Just because it's going to feature measurably less gore, profanity, and nudity than the average fright flick doesn't always equal out to a crappy quality experience. Indeed, sometimes it can mean a film that focuses on the more important aspects of the story, The Woman In Black being one example. Of course, that's an exception, and there are only exceptions because there's a rule, right? The House At The End Of The Street is a movie that follows the rules of PG-13 horror religiously. That's the problem. 

Sarah has just moved to a new home in order to get away from an ugly divorce. Her teenage daughter Elissa is along for the ride, and aside from having to cope with a couple of alpha male jackasses at school, she quickly acclimates to her new surroundings. Sarah is always at work late, so Elissa passes the time by getting to know Ryan, the college-age boy next door. He lives all alone in a large home, because something tragic happened with his family years ago. It seems his brain-damaged sister killed their parents one night with a hammer. As a result, property values are down and Ryan is the town pariah. Kids think he's a freak and adults complain about the house's history being a blight on the neighborhood. Still, Ryan himself is a nice, well-mannered young man, and he and Elissa have no problem making a connection. Only issue is, he has some secrets, and those secrets require a hidden room underneath his cellar, with two bolt-locked doors...

This movie frustrated me, because it could have been really good. There were so many moments where I felt that a minor change in the writing, sharper logic, or just some more sensible dialogue would have really tightened up the entire project. It reminded me of Cry_Wolf, a story that had the same vibe. You keep thinking "If only they'd done that" the movie would've worked. But they didn't, and it doesn't. That's not to say that it's completely terrible or anything; the cast is capable, especially Miss Lawrence, and there are one or two genuine jolts to be had. Ultimately though, the bizarre choices made by the writer and director cancel out the strengths of the picture.

To begin with, there are more than a couple characters who serve no purpose. They appear, spout their mandatory line, and disappear, never to be seen or heard again. Others are there purely to be antagonistic douches for the audience to hate. Which would be fine, if we were certain that they were going to meet a grisly fate per the rules of the horror movie universe. To quote Seth Graham-Smith, "The Terrorverse abhors an asshole." But there is no comeuppance for these characters, no crowd-pleasing kill to get us riled up and interested. In fact, there are very few kills at all. Including the prologue, this flick has a body count of 4, and all of them occur off-screen because hey, PG-13. There is one pure moment of shock when a major character is on the receiving end of a knife, but again, thanks to the rules, they live. That means that gorehounds will be disappointed, but even for those of us who appreciate more thoughtful horror the movie falls flat, mostly because the dialogue sounds like it's written for a TV movie in the 90s. All the characters speak exclusively in cliches and banter, and it's tiring at best. Some of the visual choices also baffled me, mostly on the front half of the film. Did we need the psychedelic filters and MTV rewinds? Not a trick question.  

So it is a total waste? No, not completely. Yes, it's silly and hokey, but Jennifer Lawrence is totally worth watching. I may be a little biased since I'm head over heels for the girl, but her performance really does transcend the material, and if she ever decides to do another (better) horror film, I think she could have a successful career as a scream queen. Credit must also be given to the script for managing to surprise me a few times. You may not be as impressed as I was simply because I never figure anything out ahead of time. Whether I'm just terrible at recognizing story patterns or whatever, twists almost always catch me off guard, and whether or not the twist itself is noteworthy, I have to respect the writer for at least avoiding what I felt were the obvious paths. 

In the end, House At The End Of The Street may not anger you for having watched it, but you won't remember it the next day either. I'll probably sit down to view it again though, because I'm so proud of my future wife Jennifer (shut up and let me have this). 

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