There are at least three tests that an actor must go through before they can be considered “great”: 1) Can he or she deliver a performance that generates Oscar buzz and/or an actual Oscar? 2) Can he or she command the screen in a major blockbuster? and 3) Can he or she star in a mediocre, third-rate horror movie and emerge with dignity still intact? With Silver Linings Playbook and Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence has passed tests one and two. Now with House at the End of the Street, she’s passed test number three.
Lawrence stars as Elissa, a high school student/aspiring musician who moves in with her recently divorced mother (Elizabeth Shue) into a large, fancy house in a quiet rural town. The reason they can afford such a large house is because there was a disturbing double murder at the house next door, and disturbing double murders have a tendency to knock real estate prices down. In the movie’s stylish opening sequence, we get a glimpse of the murders taking place (as well as a lot of out of focus strobing)—a young girl, possibly sleepwalking, strolls into her parents room and bludgeons them both to death, then runs off into the woods in just her pajamas. Her body, we are later informed, was never recovered. That leaves Ryan (Max Thieriot), a college-age recluse and outcast, as the family’s last survivor as well as the house’s only occupant. Despite his reclusiveness, it doesn’t take long for Ryan to strike up a friendship with his new neighbours. But as we eventually discover, the official account of the double murders is not entirely accurate.
Apart from Lawrence’s charismatic performance, House really doesn’t have much going for it. Everything about the movie is competently done; it just isn’t very interesting. For a horror movie, very little effort is taken to generate suspense. After the semi-frightening opening sequence, the film basically switches genres and becomes a “teenager adjusts to life at a new school” movie with a little bit of the “will they or won’t they?” rom com thrown into the mix. Then, with maybe twenty minutes left, the filmmakers suddenly seem to remember, “Oh wait a second, didn’t this thing start out as a horror movie?” and the movie once again switches back to the horror genre. Like the opening sequence, the ending manages to be at least semi-frightening. But are a few semi-frightening moments and a charismatic lead performance worth $14 per ticket? With dozens of great and near-great horror movies like The Descent, Paranormal Activity 3, and Scream streaming on Netflix, I’d say no.