It’s important to understand that House at the End of the Street is not really a Jennifer Lawrence movie, at least not in the sense that it’s the Jennifer Lawrence we know from X-Men: First Class and Hunger Games. Lawrence was shooting House when Winter’s Bone — the movie that merited her an Oscar nomination — came out, so it’s a movie she agreed to do before anyone even knew that she’d one day be a major movie star. She was basically the teenager from the “Bill Engval Show” at the time, and the only thing that prevented this movie from being released straight-to-DVD was the fact that Hunger Games made Lawrence a star in the interim. Otherwise, it would’ve been a movie with a poster likely to feature a forest setting, a large shot of Elizabeth Shue’s head, and a small one in the corner of Billy from “Ally McBeal” (Gil Bellows), all designed with MS Paint with a pull quote from blurb whore Pete Hammond. House wasn’t screened for critics; the supporting cast is largely unknown, and the movie has been sitting on the shelf for a while. So, you don’t need a Ph.D. in Common Sense to know what to expect from the film.
For the most part, it falls in line with those expectations: Jennifer Lawrence acquits herself best she can and has a nice screen presence, but it’s an otherwise abysmally directed, abysmally written horror film that’s about as enjoyable as pooping out your pee-hole. However, there is one holy-shit I-did-not-see-that-coming twist in House that slightly elevates it above your standard straight-to-iTunes horror flick. Credit for that goes to Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3, U-571), a legitimate screenwriter who wrote the story upon which David Louka (Dream House) built the lousy screenplay that the virtually unknown Mark Tonderai poorly directed.
House at the End of the Street is about a mother, Sarah (Shue), and daughter, Elissa (Lawrence), who rent a gorgeous house out in the middle of the state-park boonies on the cheap because the house next to it was the site of a double homicide a few years prior. A brain-damaged teenage girl (probably the same person who directed this movie) killed her parents, fled, and was presumed dead, drowned in the nearby river. However, a body was never recovered, and urban legend suggested that the teenage girl was living in the woods.
We quickly learn, however, that the surviving brother, Ryan(Max Thieriot) — who was not living in the home at the time — had moved back into the house. Subsequently, he’s ostracized by the rest of the community for ghouling out the neighborhood and lowering the property values. We learn that Ryan — who has the screen presence of a dead fish making out with a block of wood — was indirectly responsible for his sister’s brain damage, which is what allegedly drove her to kill their parents. Naturally, Sarah is drawn to the mysterious Ryan and the two spark up a relationship with all the romance of a maggot-infested box of chocolates. What we soon discover, however, is that the sister, Carrie Ann, is in fact not dead, but living the locked basement of Ryan’s home, where he cares for her and hides her from the authorities.
To say anything more would deprive the horror hounds among you — who will watch any horror movie — as well as the Jennifer Lawrence completists from the surprising twist. It doesn’t salvage the movie because a twist no matter how grand cannot save a film from poor pacing, stilted acting, generic horror-movie tropes, and characters dumber than a cocaine booger. But it does feel nice to be duped; I really think there is a smarter framework buried underneath the godawful film than what’s actually on display. It’s a shame, too, because a better screenwriter and more experienced director might have actually been able to make a movie worthy of the Jennifer Lawrence we know from Hunger Games instead of the one no one knew from a couple of episodes of “Medium” and “Cold Case.”