This is the usual setup: Rural area with few homes, surrounded by the woods. One house harbors a violent history, but an uneasy status quo is maintained in the neighborhood until new residents arrive and mess things up.
So that is what “House at the End of the Street” presents. It opens with a the double murder of a couple by their seemingly sleep-walking teenage daughter, who then flees into the woods. So, will this house be haunted, or just sit there dead and rotting like the Myers house in “Halloween”?
Fast forward four years and the obligatory new residents show up. They are Sarah and Elissa Cassidy (Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence). Sarah is the divorced single mother trying to make amends from her not-so-motherly past. Elissa is the teen daughter dealing with issues of a broken home.
They rent a house that, naturally, is next door to the home where the killing took place. At a neighborhood picnic, Sarah and Elissa are told of the story. The couple’s daughter, Carrie Anne, committed the murders and disappeared into the woods. Although believed to have drowned, Carrie Anne’s body never was found. So, while the adults talk bitterly about depressed property values and a desire to buy the murder house and destroy it, the younger people cultivate creepy stories of Carrie Anne living in the woods.
Initially told the house is vacant, Sarah soon spots a light on in one of the upper rooms, and upon inquiring of the local police officer, Weaver (Gil Bellows), is told that Ryan, Carrie Anne’s older brother, who was living with an aunt at the time of the murders, now resides in the house. Ryan keeps to himself, Weaver says, and never has caused any trouble.
Elissa, meanwhile, tries to mix in with her new classmates at the local high school. She has some successes — a singer who was in a band while living in Chicago, Elissa hooks up with some musicians at her new school. But after an unpleasant experience with a local boy at a charity event, she starts walking home.
And who should come cruising by, conveniently when it starts raining, but Ryan (Max Thieriot). Ryan presents the persona of a decent young man, haunted by his family’s grim past, perhaps harboring some guilt — and obviously lonely.
Thieriot has the look of someone who could be an innocent, sensitive guy, but also exudes the creepiness of a person who might not be who he pretends to be. For one thing, Elissa asks, why continue to live in the house where your sister murdered your parents? Well, says Ryan, I am fixing it up and will sell it.
Ryan practically offers a confession one day while walking in the woods with Elissa, talking philosophically about everything having secrets.
Yes, Ryan has secrets, and thus evolves the story as Elissa and by default Sarah soon find themselves learning more than they wish to know. Ryan is not exactly thrilled either at what’s being revealed.
The screenplay by David Loucka, from a story by Jonathan Mostow, does not present any shocking twists and in fact borrows heavily from a classic thriller of 50 years ago.
This is a mildly suspenseful effort, but Lawrence, an engaging actress, lifts this from the mundane with her Elissa, who can be bitter and snotty with her mother yet show some mature sensitivity and awareness. Her performance adds dimension to the nice-girl-who-survives, a staple of the horror/suspense genre.
Lawrence, by the way, has a knack for signing on to play characters with double letters in their names: Elissa, Katniss. Ree, Tiffany.