Fans of Jennifer Lawrence are the demographic that will benefit most from House at the End of the Street. After opening moderately well in September, 2012, the film didn’t exhibit much staying power and quickly faded. Director Mark Tonderai’s workmanlike horror thriller, scripted by David Loucka (based on a story by Jonathan Mostow), doesn’t offer much in the way of originality or genuine scares. Now available on Blu-ray in an unrated version, House has another chance to tap into the horror audience. But is it worth your time?
Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Lawrence) find a steal of a deal on what seems like a perfect house in a great location. The only drawback is the view—another house, believed by Sarah to be uninhabited, in which a double homicide occurred four years earlier. A brain-damaged young daughter murdered her own parents and then went missing. That’s why Sarah and Elissa’s rent is so low. No one wants to live across from what was fairly recently such a grisly crime scene. Turns out the house is lived in after all. The only known resident is Ryan (Max Thieriot), brother of the missing murderess.
Ostracized at school and in the community, Ryan appears to be a soft-spoken, well-mannered young man. He and Elissa hit it off one night when he gives her a ride home after she’s caught in the pouring rain while walking home. Her mother instinctively worries about the psyche of the high school student, considering he’s been through such a traumatic experience. She warns her daughter to avoid him at all costs. Of course, this only results in Elissa wanting to spend more time with Ryan. Unsurprisingly, Ryan has some genuinely troubling secrets, chief among them (mild spoiler alert) keeping his psychotic sister locked up in the basement.
The strained mother-daughter relationship is well played by Shue and Lawrence. That’s one of the stronger attributes of what is an otherwise unremarkable thriller. Thieriot relies a little too heavily on the Anthony Perkins handbook of playing a warped individual with an unhealthy fixation on a family member. The overall atmosphere is a little too dry and dull to generate any compelling suspense. It’s not unwatchable by any means. But it isn’t any great challenge to put the pieces together and figure out when the “jump” moments will strike and what the plot twists are. That’s assuming the viewer has seen more than a few similar thrillers. Younger viewers (the theatrical cut is a gore-free PG-13) with less prior horror experience might find it all more satisfying.
The 1080p transfer, framed at 2.35:1, offers a strong presentation of Miroslaw Baszak’s cinematography. Shot on 35mm film, the transfer retains a visible layer of grain that gives the transfer a cinematic appearance. Rather than what seems like the more common cool, moody bluish appearance of many modern thrillers, House features a glowing, golden burnish that gives the visual presentation a distinctively warm look. Black levels are deep and detail is strong even in shadowy scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is subtle but effective. Surrounds are used fairly sparingly to emphasize the scarier scenes. Several “jump” moments are highlighted very well in this regard. Most of the rather subdued mix is situated up front, where dialogue is fine (if very occasionally a little harsh and edgy during frantically shouted lines).
For whatever reason, House at the End of the Street is nearly feature-free. There’s “Journey into Terror,” a fluffy making-of piece that’s hardly worth watching. Other than that (and the aforementioned unrated cut) there are no supplements included. The package does include a standard DVD (containing the theatrical cut only) and a digital copy.
House at the End of the Street is mildly recommended for Jennifer Lawrence fans. Unfortunately, the screenplay gives her little to sink her teeth into.