There is a grey area between a remake and a rip-off. House At The End Of The Street proves it. While not advertised as a remake of any kind, the film, by its halfway point, certainly grows too familiar to be a coincidence. But is it a stealthy remake of one cinema’s finest horror films (I won’t say which for fear of spoiling anything) or is it a rip-off? And what’s the difference, anyhow? I think, remakes are declared and rip-offs try to pass themselves off as original. And even though House is certainly a conscious theft (an homage if you want to put it kindly), it isn’t a remake in any cooperative sense. Either way, at that evocative halfway mark, by the time the film’s narrative aspirations started to clarify, I became pleased. You see: up to that point, I wanted to blow my brains out from boredom.
The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence as the new girl in a woodsy Pennsylvania town. She and her mother (Elizabeth Shue) move in next door to a creepy mansion home to a spooky local legend. Four years earlier, a mentally handicapped girl named Carrie Ann killed her parents there and ran off into the woods where she supposedly drowned. According to the town’s teenagers, she’s still out there living off the land. Lawrence’s Elissa isn’t too concerned at first. When she meets the estate’s last living heir, the eldest son Ryan (Max Theriot), she grows more and more curious about the mystery of the house at the end of the street. (Or maybe she decides Ryan’s quite the brooding hunk and worth a little “investigating”.)
We can see why she’s so interested. He’s a suspiciously likable fellow: soft-spoken, kind, handsome, and a little pathetic, all alone in a big dark house with no one to keep him company except… wait. Who is that girl chained up in the cellar? Is it Carrie Ann? That’s what we’re led to believe, at least. I’ll admit, the denouement is a kick, as the film’s tricky machinations begin to unravel. But up to that point, it’s a structural nightmare. What begins lamely but conventionally—with the double homicide that jumps things off—then continues on a path so tedious and seemingly pointless I wasn’t sure what kind of movie I was watching. The second act felt like a bad WB pilot, with Lawrence interrogating Theriot about his traumatized childhood while the monster, an innocuous blond in a nightgown, sits chained up downstairs providing zero threat or tension.
If you don’t fall asleep in the middle (at one point I was doing origami with my ticket stub), the flick’s coda might keep you from demanding a refund. I perked up a little, but mostly because I enjoyed spotting all the allusions to the classic slasher movie providing the obvious inspiration. But without an original bone in its body, not a single moment of genuine fright, and a male lead whose acting is about as exciting as a traffic jam, House At The End Of The Street offers little besides I-Spy for cinephiles. Ultimately, I’ve seen this movie before, better directed, acted and plotted. I’m not sure I needed to see it ripped off or remade with actors (sans Lawrence) better suited for an Abercrombie catalogue.