Current Hollywood darling Jennifer Lawrence plays a teenager who moves with her mother to a new quiet neighbourhood from Chicago after a messy divorce. As she learns fairly quickly from the obnoxious neighbours, a house in their street drives prices down due to the fact that a young girl murdered both her parents there and fled the scene into the woods never to be found.
Now the older brother and son of the slain couple lives in the house and is something of a town pariah with most people steering well clear. Except Lawrence who disgusted with the locals, makes it her business to get to know the man and form a relationship with him much to her mother’s disapproval. So obviously the daughter who committed the murders isn’t quite dead, or is she? do you care?
As an audience it’s unlikely that by the time the supposed ‘reveal’ or plot twist happens you will really care. The problems stem from the screenplay in which nearly every single character is underwritten and thus lacking in identification and sympathy. For instance Lawrence’s character and her back story and development seem to start and stop at child of divorce/used to be in a band, ooh deep stuff.
The writers consider this to be enough of a reason for her to flat-out reject the popular kids who really don’t seem that bad at the start, having duped everyone into thinking they are some kind of charity group despite being a bit gropey, but nothing that would lead you to believe they were anything other than your typical horny teens. So it’s all the more surprising that when the town pariah shows his face once at a high school talent show, they immediately go for their pitchforks and get all arson happy.
Elizabeth Shue as a mother and divorced wife fares worse, seemingly on the surface a harassed doctor who works nights, in one scene Lawrence accuses her of being a high school slut and she gets all drunk and judgmental at a dinner one night and that’s the end of her character’s back story. You could be forgiven for thinking that Shue was actually the killer, well I did at least. The eventual reveal probably would not have felt as derivative and more earned had the writers actually paid attention to some of this stuff but it seems that through ten years of re-writes and new drafts, the plot got diluted and much of the nuance lost.
Director Mark Tonderai previously made the effective, suspenseful British motorway thriller Hush, but all his skill seems to have deserted him here. At the start it feels very much almost like a Richard Kelly satirical tale (one scene even apes part of Donnie Darko) but then rapidly goes downhill as it gets more by the numbers. To be fair it’s not his fault and the problems stop and start at the poor screenplay. The eventual scenes with Lawrence creeping about trying to avoid the attention of the bogeyman are flat and sadly bereft of any real tension or pace.
From an entertainment stand point there are certainly worse films out there and the film has certain so bad its good quality. Also if watching Jennifer Lawrence hang out in a low-cut top is your bag then this is the film for you. House at the End of the Street as a whole though is a slog to get through and fails to create a Norman Bates like bogeyman for the Instagram generation which it desperately wants to.