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Bubble burst for House at the End of the Street
Back in the day, one of the worst things you could say about a scary movie in an interview for genre-oriented magazines was the dreaded claim: “It’s not a horror film!” Typically, the cry was reserved for the more high-end efforts out there, usually films with name stars and a slightly more ambitious bent. The first movie I can remember it being applied to was “The Silence of the Lambs,” but if a film in which not one but two of the main characters are serial killers isn’t horror, I’m not sure what is. (To say nothing of the fact that one was a cannibal and another wanted to build an outfit made from female skin!)
But Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins were involved, so it was ixnay on the horror-nay. The gambit worked, with the film not only making a mint, but inspiring sequels/prequels and an upcoming TV show, plus bagging any number of Oscars. Not exactly the norm for an oft-maligned genre, admittedly.
Before long, many others were raising the battle cry of “It’s not a horror film!” and it became de rigueur for certain movies, typically those with name stars and a decent-sized budget that might actually have some chance at mainstream success. Never mind the fact that a lot of these films weren’t fooling anyone, least of all actual horror fans, who tended to avoid most of these sorts of films like the plague.
Now, in the 2000s, the cry has actually become a genre unto itself, typically either featuring a name actress of a certain age that needs an easy hit or an up-and-comer that could use one to boost their nascent career. For the former, think Ashley Judd and her successful run of films like “Kiss the Girls” and “Double Jeopardy,” amongst other hits; or more recently, Rachel Weisz in “Dream House,” a disjointed affair that wasn’t sure what the hell it was, but one thing it certainly wasn’t was scary. For the latter, think Amanda Seyfried’s “Gone” or Elizabeth Olsen’s “Silent House,” both of which received lukewarm critical reception and box office at best.
Basically, if a film has some scary moments but never quite rises above thriller status, then by God, it really isn’t a horror film, but instead sort of a glorified made-for-TV movie of the ilk typically found on, say, the Lifetime Network.
All of which leads us to “House at the End of the Street.” Clearly intended as a star vehicle for the actress better known as Katniss from “The Hunger Games,” Jennifer Lawrence, the film neatly lends itself to the “not a horror film” anti-category. Mainly because the end result plays more like a psychodrama than anything else.
And yet, like “Silent House” and “Dream House” before it, it’s clearly being marketed as a horror flick. Sure, there are some spooky moments and scenarios present, but it never quite goes for bona fide scares, nor are there any sort of actual supernatural elements when all is said and done, though the film leads one to believe otherwise at times.
Instead of a horror flick, we get Lawrence as an aspiring musician who moves to the backwoods suburbs with her mom (Elizabeth Shue). Once there, she discovers that the soft-spoken next door neighbor, Ryan, who lives at the last house on the left- er, make that the titular house at the end of the street- was the victim of a horrific murder, which left him an orphan. Since the murders occurred at the aforementioned house, everyone thinks the place is haunted and denizen Ryan (Max Thieriot) is a wacko, not in the least for living in the house his parents were killed in.
Is Ryan just a teen trying to come to terms with his past or is he actually the nut job the town mostly seems convinced he is? Is Lawrence’s character, like many a teen before her, simply drawn to the bad boy vibe Ryan exudes? Or are her mother’s instincts that Lawrence should stay as far away from Ryan as possible right on the money?
Well, if you have seen any Lifetime movie, you should be able to figure that out pretty early on, as well as predict the big “twist” at the end. As such, there is no real tension here, nor any surprise, for that matter. Basically, the only thing the film has going for it is a good cast and an effective lead in Lawrence, who has already shown several times over she’s more than capable of carrying a movie on her own, notably in “Winter’s Bone,” which earned her a well-deserved Oscar nod.
Fans of Lawrence will certainly want to check this out, primarily for a couple of scenes in which she sings, respectively, an acoustic ballad and a techno-style number that is more Cream than Peaches. As with Elizabeth Olsen in the aforementioned “Silent House,” Lawrence is the show here, for better or worse, although Shue is pretty good as the mother. While I don’t think whether the film tanks or not will affect her career adversely- after all, she’s got not one but two franchises to fall back on (“Hunger Games” and “X-Men”) – it’s still no great shakes.
“House at the End of the Street” may not, in fact, qualify as a horror film, but neither does it qualify as a good movie in any given genre. Even Lawrence fans may want to book their lodgings elsewhere…or at least wait for the inevitable showing of the film on Lifetime, where it will undoubtedly end up.