As a horror-craving adolescent, I regularly watched midnight movies filled with sex and violence on USA's Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried. The cult classics, B-movies and exploitation films I sneaked there were edited for TV with an eye toward including as much sex and violence as censors would allow, which often meant less salacious things--like plot points--were chopped out. This made the movies senseless, but that was part of the fun. Watching even the unrated version of the PG-13 rated horror thriller House at the End of the Street made me wistful for the low-budget garbage of my youth, because at least those offered me scintillating sex and violence with their nonsensical stories.
With a cast that includes two Oscar-nominated actresses (Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence), you might expect House at the End of the Street to be smarter than your average horror movie. But even these rightly celebrated performers cannot save this movie from its total lack of tension, shockingly bad dialogue and tangle of incomprehensible plot points.
Lawrence stars as Elissa, a high school girl who has a strained relationship with her recently divorced mother (Shue) who has just transplanted the family into a seemingly nice and normal small town. Of course, all illusions of a peaceful suburban life are shattered when mother and daughter discover they live next to the home of a young man whose parents were brutally murdered by his mentally unstable sister four years ago. Since then, the killer teen, Carrie Anne, hasn't been spotted, but some assume she drowned after running off into the nearby woods. As Elissa grows closer to Carrie Anne's surviving brother, Ryan (Max Theirot), she begins to uncover the horrible—and absolutely confusing—truth.
Director Mark Tonderai goes for a slow burn style of scares and tension building, but fails miserably. For one thing, the roles are terribly miscast as both Shue and Lawrence seem too smart for the lies their characters readily fall for, and the movie's monsters are too gawky to be scary. Instead of slow burn, House at the End of the Street is just slow and boring, piling up awkward exposition lines that are about as subtle as the hammer Carrie Anne uses to pummel her parents to death in the film's opening.
Worse yet, characters' actions frequently lack motivation beyond the fact that the story needs them to behave the way they do. Plus, the dialogue is so on the nose that you might wonder if Elissa—who blurts out upon meeting Ryan the statement, "Your parents are dead"—has some sort of social interaction disorder. Aside from being an amusing way to link this movie to Lawrence's far more interesting outing in Silver Linings Playbook this behavior has no real payoff. It's just badly written dialogue courtesy of David Loucka, who also penned the deadly boring haunted house flick Dream House.
The script is also littered with plot holes that make the movie incoherent throughout and lead to a finale that steals from more menacing movies (which I won't identify lest I give away spoilers) and is wildly unsatisfying. If there were at least something titillating—be it gruesome gore or thrilling sex appeal—the formerly mentioned faults might be less egregious and maybe even overlooked. Similarly, I might forgive the distractingly bad sound design and wincingly amateurish lighting, but House at the End of the Street so lacks in thrills and entertainment that clocking it's faults became the most fun I had with it. The movie is flat, and lacking in scares, coherence, fun and engaging imagery. In the end, the scariest thing about this horror movie is that it was made at all.
The audio and visual on the Blu-ray is sharp. Plus, this version also comes with a DVD, and a digital copy easily accessible through iTunes. But the bonus feature that might seem most enticing is the Unrated cut of the movie that's proudly pronounced on the box art's cover. Unfortunately, where most unrated versions mean more nudity, gore, raunchy jokes or foul language, this unrated cut offers none of the above. There's a bit of blood but that's about it for carnage.
The Blu-ray also boasts a behind-the-scenes featurette called "Journey Into Terror: Inside House at the End of the Street." This has interviews with the cast and crew, and is most interesting in that it reveals that Tonderai set out to make a Hitchcock-style thriller that would be appropriate for younger audiences. If any younger audience members are reading this, let me assure you: the worst of Hitchcock is still 100 times better than House at the End of the Street.
Besides a theatrical trailer for the film, there's also a set of so-called "Sneak Peeks." These are trailers for other movies. It's fine that they are included, but calling them a special feature is ridiculous.