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When bad movies happen to good actresses: “The House at the End of the Street”

October 5, 2012

I kinda feel sorry for Jennifer Lawrence. There she is, all talented and an Oscar nominee, and the star of a mega-popular franchise that’s not hugely embarrassing to be seen in, and yet…what does she have when she’s not Katniss? There just isn’t enough work for decent actresses for her to keep knocking them out of the park. So, in between turning in great performances in solid films she’s gotta do stuff like The House at the End of the Street. Well, at least she has good company while she hits her marks, but still…oh, and by the way, I am going to spoil this movie, so you’re welcome. Please put that 12 bucks and 100 minutes to good use.

In HatEotB (Jeez, I can’t even abbreviate this movie’s title easily), Lawrence is a high school student whose mother (Elisabeth Shue), has moved her to, um, the woods? A National Park? Some wooded suburb-ish area. Anyway, they come from Chicago, because Lawrence’s dad…ah, isn’t in the picture somehow. This movie talks around a lot of stuff. Anyway, they get a good deal on a handsome house because the next house over was the scene of a double murder. A teenage girl killed her parents and then escaped into the woods. But, hey, no worries, since the locals assure her the girl drown in the nearby river. They’re uber-sure of this because they never found her body. Yeah, strap in, ‘cuz that’s how logic works in this movie.

Well, Lawrence doesn’t much take to the rich kid clique in school, because they’re all dicks, but she is intrigued by the current resident of the murder-house—the surviving son, Ryan. Ryan leads a Boo Radley-ish existence of isolation from the town—if Boo Radley drove a Cadillac and ate regular food and not raccoons and frogs (Boo Radley did that, right? It’s been a while since I read that book) Ryan is played by Max Theriot, the go-to actor for freaky teenagers, so you know something’s up.

Sure, get in this guy’s car. Nothing can go wrong with that plan.

And that something is his crazy sister, who he keeps locked in the basement. Sure, why not? Only, as Lawrence gets closer to Ryan (she’s ready to Hunger his Games, if you know what I mean…wait, damn that didn’t work), he gets wiggier, and then his sister escapes. In the process of recovering her before she kills a couple of parked teenagers (sometimes this town seems to be stuck in 1955), Ryan accidentally breaks her neck. Well, accidents will happen, I suppose. All right, so everything works out okay, right?

But no! Ryan just goes out and finds a new sister to keep locked up. Seems his sister died when they were kids, and their parents raised him as a girl until he killed them, and now he’s been kidnapping teenaged girls to play his sister, and guess who his next choice to play sister is? I mean, like, after the current one expires. Yeah, it’s Lawrence. Well, can’t have that, right? So, he captures her, and there’s a fight, and she eventually overpowers him, which is kind of a foregone conclusion, since Lawrence is 5’9” and played Katniss Everdeen, and Theriot is a skinny little wimp.

“I could kill you six different ways before breakfast.”

Now, how long would you peg a plot like this takes? 8o minutes, maybe? Nope, this movie really takes its time and really plays up the tension between mom and daughter. And townies and Ryan. And Lawrence’s high school band. None of it really matters to the plot, but there it is.

Lawrence is great, and mostly seems to be struggling against the stupidity of some of her character’s decisions. Also great is Elisabeth Shue, who makes her character a nearly-tactile portrait of a brittle, anxiety-riven woman who’s not really good at being a mom, but doing her best, even when her instincts are kind of bad. The tension between them is palpable, the way you’d imagine it would be between a young, talented actresses who has caught some amazing breaks early on, and a veteran who had to work in the actress-ghetto of the ‘80s for ten years and finally be gang-sodomized on film to earn her Oscar nomination.

“I had to act with Nicolas Cage to get my nomination, kid.”

Other things of note:

* Man, Cadillacs are great cars for transporting bodies. You can comfortably fit two of them in the trunk. If that was a Toyota, you’d have to put the back seats down.

* Gil Bellows shows up as a love-interest for Shue, and holy shit, what happened to him? His head is all weirdly elongated. I mean, yeah, everybody ages, but they don’t turn into one of the alien scientists from This Island Earth.

“Hi. Remember me from Ally McBeal?”

* Theriot shrugs off a couple bullet wounds to the chest (including one right above the heart). Uh-huh, sure.

* Theriot also leaves his victim’s personal effects in the garbage can under the sink, where Lawrence can find it when she’s throwing something out. That’s some good chick-abducting, there.

* We get a lot of backstory concerning Lawrence’s dad…who we never meet and has no bearing on the story.

* Bellows appears to be the only cop in town and goes into a darkened house after Theriot alone and never turns on the lights. Uh…how long was the academy training? Shorter than this movie, I bet.

* Shue gets stabbed in the abdomen, but shrugs that off, and seems perfectly fine a couple days later.

Anyway, that’s The House at the end of the Street. For what it’s worth, there’s no real street, either.

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