There’s a germ of a good idea in this teen thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence, but then the characters and the plot twists start getting too stupid
One imagines the rebellious teens of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” getting loaded on booze from their parents’ liquor cabinet and having a good laugh at “House at the End of the Street,” a teen thriller that offers up both a cast of talented actors and a promising plot before skidding into silliness.
“Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence plays Elissa, who’s just moved to town with mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue), winding up in a swankier neighborhood than the single working mother and her daughter are used to. Turns out the reason the rent is so low is that they’re next door to an infamous crime scene, where a deranged young girl murdered her parents and ran off to the woods, never to be found.
That place is supposed to be abandoned, but when Elissa sees lights turning on in the middle of the night, she finds out that Ryan (Max Thieriot), the homicidal girl’s brother, has moved back in after years of being away.
With the exception of friendly Sheriff Weaver (Gil Bellows), who’s immediately smitten with Sarah, the locals all treat Ryan like a pariah, particularly since his sister has become something of a suburban legend as the local boogeyperson in the years since the killings.
Elissa, however, becomes smitten with Ryan, particularly when he comes to her rescue after one of the BMOCs tries to date-rape her at a high school party. Sarah has her suspicions about Ryan — she announces some variant of “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” every so often — but Elissa thinks he’s just misunderstood. But what if it turns out that Ryan has been hiding his sister all along? And what if she’s still got a taste for killing?
Up until this point, “House” is an effective if unremarkable chiller, made all the more palpable by its talented cast, particularly Thieriot, a compelling young actor whose face can turn from warm and welcoming to shady and possibly psychotic with just a glance. But the script by David Loucka (the ridiculous “Dream House”), based on a story by Jonathan Mostow (“Terminator 3,” “Breakdown”), just doesn’t know when to quit.
There are one or two clever plot twists (which won’t be revealed here) that are subsequently followed up by a cavalcade of ridiculous, credibility-stretching ones. And worse, the writers (aided by director Mark Tonderai) turn the very capable and self-reliant Elissa into a typically moronic slasher-movie meat puppet who does every single thing wrong, escaping one ridiculous scrape only to bumble into another one.
“House at the End of the Street” isn’t so disastrous that it will do damage to Lawrence’s ascendant career, but she and most of the rest of those involved are no doubt already erasing it from their résumés.