The only reason I was looking forward to 'House at the End of the Street' was Oscar-nominee Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, I have a crush on her – who doesn't? - but more importantly, I think she's a fantastic actress. I assumed, "There's no way she'd do a movie like this unless it's better than it looks." Boy, was I wrong. 'House at the End of the Street' falls right in line with every other lousy PG-13 so-called scary movie. It can't be labeled as "horror" because there's no horror to it. This is a teen thriller without the thrills. It's clichéd, generic, and utterly skippable.
A single mother (Elisabeth Shue) and her teenage daughter (Lawrence) have moved to rural home that would typically be way outside their means if not for its depreciating property value. What's wrong with the place? Well, I think the opening scene of the movie explains that best. A couple hundred yards from their rental home is a run-down house where a teenage girl (who holds her head forward so that her hair covers her face, of course) once brutally murdered her parents. Now, the only surviving son in that family, a twenty-something weirdo, lives there alone. The opening sequence, which jumps back and forth from over-exposed and under-exposed, shows the girl bash her mom's skull in, then attack her father. In reality, there's no way that this unarmed teenager would have taken the father in a fight, so it's a good thing that the action happens off-screen. Flash forward and cut to our central characters moving into their new home.
We are repeatedly told, but never shown, that Lawrence's character looks for people to "fix." So, when she meets the outcast neighbor from the house next door (not "the house at the end of the street," because it's never established as or referred to as the titular "house at the end of the street"), she takes him on as her project. The boy doesn't seem all that strange, but knowing that his sister murdered his parents has cast an ugly shadow on him. Being a typical protective mother, Shue's character fights against her daughter to prove a point: you shouldn't go around fixing people. What Lawrence needs to learn is that, of course, you should always listen to your mother. Something not-so-scary or thrilling will happen because of her new defiant relationship with the boy next door.
Absolutely nothing happens in 'House at the End of the Street' until the end. I'm not exaggerating. Nothing happens. The 75 minutes leading up to the conclusion are pointless. And even when we get to it, the supposedly climactic ending just goes on and on and on. A note to filmmakers: when the monster in your movie is a teenage girl with brain damage and no supernatural powers, you've got problems – but that's just one of many. I'll refrain from spoiling anything else.
If you read my theatrical review from The Bonus View, then you're probably wondering why I opted to review the 'House at the End of the Street' Blu-ray. The answer is simple. I always hope for something better when bad movies with potential get "better" versions. For example, the extended versions of 'Kingdom of Heaven' and 'I Am Legend' are much better than their theatrical cuts. The advertisements for the unrated cut of 'House at the End of the Street' (including the packaging of the disc) claim that "terror hits home in the chilling unrated cut with a shocking added twist you didn't see in theaters." Enticing, right? Well, here's the truthful shocker: I watched the unrated cut and didn't notice a single addition to what I saw in theaters. Not one. If anything truly has been added, it's just as unremarkable as the rest of the movie. The difference in runtime between the two cuts (both of which are included on the Blu-ray) is less than one minute.
Unless you're a glutton for PG-13 punishment, turn the car around. 'House at the End of the Street' is nothing but a dead-end.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Fox Home Entertainment has placed 'House at the End of the Street' on a Region A BD-50 in a two-disc blue Elite keepcase. The second disc a DVD/Digital Copy combo and a slip is included containing the code for unlocking the Digital Copy. The Blu-ray contains both the theatrical and unrated cuts, while the DVD and Digital Copy are only of the theatrical cut. The keepcase is accompanied by a matte cardboard slipcover that contains identical artwork on the front side and almost-identical artwork on the back – the only difference being film credits swapped out for extra images on slipcover. Personally, I find the artwork completely distracting from the original poster art, which you can see here. Upon inserting the disc into your player, a forced Fox vanity reel and an FBI warning play, as well as a skippable firmware disclaimer, a "What is the Blu-ray Experience?" infomercial (as if we're not already watching Blu-rays) and trailers for Francis Ford Coppola's 'Twixt' (what the hell happened to that guy?) and 'American Horror Story.'
'House at the End of the Street' arrives on Blu-ray with a decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The video quality isn't perfect, but it's far less flawed than the movie itself.
As shown in the first screenshot in this review, the movie's opening features footage that bounces from under-exposed to over-exposed. Luckily, this is the only instance in the movie where this Tony Scott-esque technique is applied. These shots are very raw and show off great amounts of film grain, but when we get to the narrative at hand, the video quality clears up nicely and reveals many textures and details. For example, as we see the murderous night-gown donning, hair draped in front of her face teenager stumbling through the home, with each footstep forward we can see the direction that the shallow grain of the stained hard wood floors runs. Moments later we meet our heroine and her mother. The freckles on both Lawrence and Shue's faces are more visible and vivid that we may have seen before. The high detail reveals the smoothness of the skin of each of the trendy characters and their perfect complexions. Sadly, it also reveals Shue's age.
To achieve the desired bleak and gray look of the world in which the movie is set, lots of filtering effects are applied – many of which are unnatural and obvious. Even then, the occasional use of vivid color is used to punch through the palette. The first times that I noticed it was during a close-up of homemade spaghetti and a 'Tron'-like glowing pool in the middle of the day, but clothing typically warrants this reaction. Shadows are mostly strong, but black levels have the tendency to waiver from shot to shot. The majority of 'House at the End of the Street' takes place during the night, so there are many more opportunities presented to fail - but that's no excuse when the black levels can range from perfectly inky to obvious dark shades of gray in just one multi-angle scene.
Compression flaws are not present, although one exterior shot of a house during an after-school party reveals the only instance of digital noise seen throughout the movie. It's almost as if this shot was picked up after production with a sub-par camera. Aside from those little nuisances, 'House at the End of the Street' looks pretty good.
'House at the End of the Street' has been given the standard 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. While the movie fails, the audio succeeds.
From the opening Relativity and Rogue vanity reels, it's obvious that the sound is going to be very active during tense moments. All audio is dynamically mixed throughout the channels. While there are only a few instances that warrant the effect, all occasions of imaging are noteworthy. Lightning cracks in the rear speakers, fluidly spreading to the front speakers.
These great effects are used to complement the onscreen action. For example, when the murderous teen bludgeons her mother in the intro sequence, the visuals aren't nearly as terrifying as the sounds. The bone crushing and skull splitting effects are disgusting, powerfully cutting through every other sound to become the dominant source of sound. Another great instance is when Lawrence takes a walk through the woods. The environmental sounds of birds chirping and a mildly blowing breeze realistically enhance what's happening on screen.
But my favorite example from the audio stems from the movie's climax. The score bangs through the channels with loud intensity, but drops out for this moment. Lawrence and the killer are confined to a small, cluttered basement. The power is shut off and Lawrence crawls behind the objects filling the room. With a completely blackened screen, the sound of her scurrying around the space is fantastic, as if she's crawling behind and around the seats in your theater.
My only complaint with the audio is that, as fantastic as it can be, the movie doesn't offer enough chances for it to really shine. This is due to the anticlimactic nature of 'House at the End of the Street.'
I want to like PG-13 scary movies, I really do. I believe that less is more, so there's no reason a PG-13 horror flick can't be terrifying, but they almost always leave me extremely dissatisfied. It's annoying to have a movie be portrayed as falling in the horror genre, only to actually be a thriller. What's worse than a teen horror movie? A teen thriller where absolutely nothing happens until the end. The video quality is strong and the audio is fantastic during the instances that warrant it, but the special features are identical to the movie itself – lacking. Despite the presence of the very talented Jennifer Lawrence, 'House at the End of the Street' is a waste of time.