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31 Oct 2012

House at the End of the Street

Aiming for a Hitchcock meets de Palma thriller, film at the end of the reel hands in mixed results.

Director: Mark Tonderai

Screenplay: David Loucka, Jonathan Mostow

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Theirot, Elisabeth Shue, Gil Bellows

In the film's chilling prologue, a teenage girl wakes up from her sleep, brutally murders her parents with a lamp stand, and disappears into the woods just outside their home. Years later, divorcee Sarah Cassidy (Elisabeth Shue) and angsty singer-songwriter daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) escape from the high costs of urban living and move into the house just opposite. They make friends with Ryan (Max Thierot), the sole survivor of the killing. Disliked and ostracised by the townsfolk for continuing to stay at his parents' house and thus depressing the value of everyone's property, the polite, sensitive, and emotionally damaged hunk is a natural romantic target for Elissa. But does she know that poor tormented Ryan's locked his serial-killing sister Carrie-Anne in his basement all these years, and that she breaks out every now and then?

While the film may come across as a somewhat clichéd horror film, the charm of House at the End of the Street is how its premise eschews much of the modern horror and thriller genres and harks back to the twisted psychological and psychosexual thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian de Palma. It comes as a surprise that this film has very little gore and slaughter. Much of the suspense in the film comes from the asymmetric cat-and-mouse games that are played between Ryan and Elissa, Ryan and Carrie-Anne, and Carrie-Anne and Elissa. Like Hitchcock and de Palma's thrillers, the chills come from not so much the possibility of characters getting carved up on screen but from the implied horror that certain characters have been keeping really dark secrets for very tragic reasons.

The old school premise is matched by Tonderai's stylistic direction, a moody soundtrack, copious Dutch angles, and an above-average cast (for a modern horror/thriller). The only flaw is how Tonderai seems to chicken out of his vision at times by resorting to cheap scares from the horror films that his premise rejects.

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