Coming off the success of “The Hunger Games”, Jennifer Lawrence has been acquiring roles very different from that of Katniss Everdeen in an attempt to avoid typecasting. “House at the End of the Street”, her first film released since playing Katniss, is definitely a different genre.
The movie plays on every big city teen’s biggest fear-moving to the middle of nowhere without any friends or shopping malls nearby. And, of course, the gruesome murders in the house at the end of the street, coincidentally next door to Elissa, Lawrence’s character, and her mother’s new dwellings, is no perk, either. Between the morality-lacking citizens of the town and Elissa’s poor relationship with her single mom, who is played by Elisabeth Shue, she’s in a pretty rough spot in life when the audience first encounters her.
Still, to truly fulfill the scary element, rumor has it that the murderer, a deranged and brain damaged teen girl who killed her parents, is living wild in the woods between the home of Elissa and the house the murders took place in. The house happens to be inhabited by Ryan, the son of the murdered and brother of the murderer. To complicate things, the town hates Ryan and shuns him for what his sister did; however, Elissa cannot help but feel sympathy for the handsome outcast with a troubled past.
For most of the film, the plot seems jumpy and sporadic. There are seemingly large holes in the story line, and at times it becomes difficult not to hate how commanding Elissa comes off, especially for a new girl in town. However, it is Ryan, played by Max Thieriot, who makes Elissa more likeable and agreeable. At the same time, it’s aggravating that halfway through the scary movie the best part is the romantic elements, which is the easiest sub-plot to follow.
Then, the twist happens. Suddenly, entire chunks of the film begin to make sense, and the story becomes intriguing nearly two-thirds of the way through. Though it still lacks anything truly scary, at least now there is something going on.
Despite the overwhelming desire to hail Lawrence’s performance as her best yet, it isn’t. Although she portrayed the character well, there was an inability to rationalize how her character, who is from Chicago, could be so naïve in social gatherings, yet so smart as to MacGyver her way out of what would have undoubtedly been a deadly situation. Elissa came across as socially awkward in some situations where it was possible that the character was meant to seem indifferent, or even cruel. No doubt most of these issues have more to do with the script that Lawrence’s acting, which at its worst is still better than most.
It is, however, very easy to see why Elissa falls for the charming, handsome Ryan. Max Theriot is almost unrecognizable with dark hair and a much more mature look for the role. He makes Ryan easy to sympathize with, as well as likeable as the older boy next door. By all accounts, he is how Elissa sees him—respectable, wounded and misunderstood. However, when the scene called for Ryan to be cause for concern, namely the first scene when he appears mysteriously in a car and offers Elissa a ride to her house, Thieriot gives Ryan just enough edge to make the audience groan when Elissa accepts.
If Lawrence was only two-thirds the actress she normally is in ‘“The House at the End of the Street”, then the supporting cast was just plain dull. Shue and Gil Bellows, who played the sheriff, seemed hollow in their characters, once again an issue most likely to blame more on the script than the actors themselves. It seemed that when the sheriff showed up, it was only to satisfy the need to get Elissa’s mom away from the action. He was the stereotypical backwoods sheriff, hitting on the new mom in town, always hanging out at the local hospital or high school and being overprotective of the ‘black sheep’ of the community. Shue’s performance was very much like Lawrence’s in that the name brings excitement to the viewer because she is known for her talent, yet it was as if she only gave it part of the effort she normally would. Still, Shue was not given much to work with; her character is the stock role of the mom that really wants to be the mother she was never able to be before, but in doing so becomes far too overprotective that it drives the daughter away. If she isn’t nagging Elissa, then it is probably because she is at work, or too busy not understanding who her daughter is on a personal level.
At the end of the movie, the plot evolves into a decent story. Though it lacks anything really scary and takes time to grab the audience’s attention, it ends on a very fascinating and disturbing note – which surely means a sequel is already in the works. Although it falls short of the claims it makes in its advertising, “The House at the End of the Street” is an entertaining flick to see with friends, particularly ones that enjoy providing their own commentary on how Elissa should clearly see what’s coming her way.
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