The House at the End of the Street directed by Mark Tonderai
Although actress Jennifer Lawrence had appeared in several television programs and seven theatrical films prior to 2012, few could have foreseen the magnitude of her breakthrough that year. While it is true that critics had praised her work in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, her career was most assuredly catapulted into the stratosphere by a pair of films that bracketed 2012. Bringing to life the Katniss Everdeen character in The Hunger Games, she helped propel that March release to an almost $700 million worldwide gross; the No. 3 film of that year, after The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. In November, her portrayal of Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook earned her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar … the second-youngest winner of that august award (at age 22) in history, after Marlee Matlin. Less remembered for Jennifer that year, but still an unqualified hit with a domestic gross of $42 million, was the film House at the End of the Street, which was released in September but had been filmed two years earlier, around the time of Winter’s Bone. And Jennifer’s millions of fans around the world should not be surprised to learn that this earlier film shows the then-20-year-old actress evincing just as much intelligence, grit, talent and remarkable good looks as they have recently come to expect.
In the film, Jennifer plays the part of Elissa Cassidy, who, along with her divorced mother, Sarah (1995 Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue), moves from the big town of Chicago to the picturesque suburban community of Woodshire. They are able to afford the large, rambling abode that they move into only because it happens to be situated next to a house where a double homicide had occurred four years earlier. It seems that little Carrie-Ann Jacobson had murdered both her parents and then drowned in the local dam, although her body had never been recovered. Elissa soon befriends the only family survivor, Ryan Jacobson (a memorable performance here from Max Thieriot), a quiet, sensitive youth who lives alone in the house and is fixing up the place in the hopes of selling it.
Well, to be perfectly honest, Ryan doesn’t live ENTIRELY alone, and those viewers who have seen such previous “wacko relative in the attic” films as The Shuttered Room (1967) and The Beast in the Cellar (1971) might have an inkling where this film is headed. But they would be dead wrong, as this film takes a couple of very surprising twists and pulls the rug out from under for all concerned … especially for poor Elissa! “People don’t notice all the secrets around them, even though they’re right in front of them,” Ryan tells Elissa early on, and future events in the film surely do bear that statement out!
Besides those two British films just mentioned, House at the End of the Street also brings to mind, in sections, such wonderful horror outings as Psycho and Wait Until Dark. The film turns remarkably suspenseful in its final 1/2 hour or so, and I must confess that my stomach was in knots by the time it was all over. Director Mark Tonderai, whose previous work I am wholly unfamiliar with, does a fine job at keeping his film moving, and his camera work is fluid and mobile, to say the least! The film looks just fine, too, with superior production values; flashily shot, and making nice use of its Metcalfe, Ontario locales. (Is this film an American or Canadian production? Judging by the end credits, my guess would be a joint production, but I’m really not certain on this point.) It is certainly well acted by all concerned, and is a fine exemplar of intelligent, modern-day and realistic horror. (And for those viewers who might pooh-pooh this last statement, as to the film’s realism, I would simply cite the stunning events that transpired in Cleveland just a few years back!)
Still, good as the film is, its main selling point remains its young star, Jennifer Lawrence, who most assuredly “steals the show.” Though she doesn’t get to wield a bow and arrow in this film, Hunger Games fans will be happy to learn that she yet manages to give a very physical performance here: running, jumping through windows, shooting a gun, fighting and kicking and so on. I am tempted to say that Jennifer has all the makings of a great “scream queen,” but for the fact that — amazingly enough, given all the horrible things that she encounters during the film — Elissa does not scream once … not even when locked in a car trunk along with what may very well be a female corpse! A tough, smart and beautiful heroine, to be sure; no wonder a drunken teen lustfully says to her at one point, “You’re pretty.” Gorgeous and naturally talented (it’s astounding that Jennifer has never taken any acting classes!), and only 26 years old as I write this … what a bright future Ms. Lawrence has, unless, of course, she foolishly goes down the Lohan route, which I highly doubt she will. In talk show interviews, Jennifer comes across as a bright, funny, self-deprecating and levelheaded actress; no wonder she is so hugely successful and popular!
Anyway, I’d say forget about that overrated (in every regard) J-Lo and stick with J-Law! She’s the real deal, and makes this already fine horror outing something truly special. And oh … try watching this film a second time, after learning its many surprising secrets. You’ll surely see events with a whole new slant, I promise you…