Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t yet an Oscar nominee or a major franchise headliner when she filmed low-budget thriller “House at the End of the Street” back in summer 2010. Which helps explain the cognitive dissonance in watching the rising star of “Winter’s Bone” and “The Hunger Games” trying to deliver a serious performance at the center of such a schlocky spin on the girl-in-jeopardy genre. Exploiting Lawrence’s newfound fame is the only hope this ill-conceived, poorly executed venture has of connecting with auds before poisonous word of mouth sends potential buyers in search of a more attractive address.
A nasty, hyperactive prologue introduces a homicidal teen massacring her unsuspecting parents one fateful night, before vanishing into the woods to become the stuff of urban legend. Pic then flashes forward four years to begin the story proper: Spunky, big-hearted high school student Elissa (Lawrence) moves with fretful mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) to a remote house not too far from the scene of the opening crime. Soon enough, Elissa has befriended the only surviving resident of the spooky old murder house, Ryan (Max Thieriot), the killer’s older brother.
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Sarah doesn’t trust the boy she clearly believes is damaged goods, but local lawman Weaver (Gil Bellows) assures her the kid just has a bad rap. As Elissa’s feelings for Ryan quickly blossom from friendship into romance, Sarah’s fears initially seem unfounded. But “House” has numerous twists up its sleeve, which helmer Mark Tonderai (U.K. chiller “Hush”) and scribe David Loucka (last year’s equally ludicrous thriller “Dream House”) dispense to increasingly risible results.
Viewers are soon clued in to Ryan’s secret basement chamber, where it turns out he keeps his infamous sister, Carrie Anne (Eva Link), locked away for her own safety and the safety of others. Except the wily girl keeps finding ways to escape, forcing Ryan to run her down and drag her back before she can attack an unsuspecting Elissa. Meanwhile, Tonderai unleashes a dizzying stream of visual tics (shakycam, Dutch angles, jump cuts) and bellowing sound effects in an attempt to mask the lack of tension in the situations as scripted. For most of the running time, the pic plays closer to a V.C. Andrews melodrama for teen girls curious about sexuality than the sort of Brian De Palma-esque Hitchcock riff that Tonderai seems interested in attempting.
As a result of the pic’s stylistic excesses, even simple conversational scenes between Lawrence and Shue are disorientingly shot and assembled. The two thesps actually look well matched as mother and daughter, and could have forged an intriguing relationship if they weren’t saddled with dialogue like, “Yeah, why do you still live in the house your parents got killed in?” Both actresses do what they can within the confines of the script, though any hope that Lawrence throwing herself into physically demanding action would be viewed as a revelation is as out-of-date as the 2011 copyright. Thieriot has a more difficult time turning his enigmatic loner into anyone Elissa might credibly fall for.
Even when the protracted cat-and-mouse third act appears to have hit rock bottom, a clunky climax and “Psycho”-inspired epilogue prove there’s still room to lower the bar. It’s worth noting that the film’s designated social-media hashtag abbreviates the title to “#HATES,” which, after viewing, reads like either a savvy joke or a cry for help.