[SPOILER ALERT] (as if it matters...)
My goodness. There is a lot of badness in House at the End of the Street.
But it's not all bad! Some of the vitriolic reviews that've come out (we aren't early with ours, because the studio chose not to screen it for critics until a few hours before public opening: seldom a good sign) are, I feel, unwarranted. They seem to be coming from horror snobs and snooty cineastes who expect every frame of every film to be worthy of the Palme d'Or.
House at the End of the Street is what it is: a teenage version of Fatal Attraction (1987) with a dash of The Collector (1965). It's not the greatest thing since sliced bread but it's well-shot, well-acted, there's suspense, the characters are as well-drawn as they need to be, and I was never bored. It's a guilty pleasure, and if you go in knowing that it's worth the price of admission.
Here's the sitch: beautiful, disheveled divorcee and doctor Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her soft-rock singer teenage daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) move from citified Chicago to the country. Their cabin in the woods came cheap because of the "murder house" just across the way. A few years back, a husband and wife were murdered by their own insane child, who fled into the forest and is presumed dead. But of course, that is not the end of the story of the house at the end of the street: Now, the couple's elder son Ryan (Max Thieriot), is living there and trying to fix it up for sale. Surprise, surprise, there is an instant attraction between the kooky college boy and the new gamine girl in town. A fatal one!
There're all kinds of delightfully kooky subplots, and clunky attempts to add dimension to the parental units (Sarah's sweet on the local sheriff, who's played by the always affable Gil Bellows; turns out Ryan's momma was an opium smoker [that's for you, Rasputina fans!], and so on). Sarah's high school friends quickly form a band, there's a big rumble in a parking lot, turns out there's a drugged-up feral female locked in a basement… and… yeah. Nonsensical fun.
Being PG-13, you guys won't be seeing Sarah's (or Elissa's) knockers, but there are a few brutal knock-down drag out moments during fight 'n flight scenes. It's ridiculously over the top as the crazy goes into overdrive, but I thought the moments of suspense were well done (not much fazes me anymore, but many people inside the theater were leaning forward in their seats, covering their eyes, gasping, etc.).
If you don't mind some mindless titillation — think Mark Wahlberg's Fear meets Lifetime Movie, then toss in a dash of the more recent The Roommate, and you're good to go! — check out House at the End of the Street this weekend. (Unless you haven't seen Dredd yet.)
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson