Bad movies fall into several classes. Occasionally someone will make a bad movie on purpose – Uwe Boll, for instance, buys cheap rights to video games and then makes them into intentionally terrible films in protest of a subject he finds ridiculous (see: Bloodrayne, House of the Dead). On the other hand are filmmakers like Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space) or Tommy Wiseau (The Room) – people who try to make good movies, but end up so laughably bad they're worth watching anyway; they have an artistic appeal in spite of themselves. These are all “good” bad movies.
Of course, there are “bad” bad movies, too – recent examples which come to mind are Bridesmaids and Real Steel – Hollywood schlock insulting to the intelligence of the viewer. However, the worst type of bad movie is that which is simply unremarkable. Bad as Real Steel was, it was at least worthy of discussing on some level; however, there are some movies which are best left forgotten so the viewer can ignore the fact that they spent two hours of their life on something completely inconsequential.
House at the End of the Street  is just such a film. It is the most recent vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence, a Louisvillian actress who gained significant acclaim after her well-deserved Oscar-nominated performance in 2010's Winter's Bone. Since then she has continued to delight audiences in films such as X-Men: First Class and, from earlier this year, The Hunger Games, in which she starred.
In her most recent film, Lawrence portrays Elissa, a high school girl moving to a new town with her mother, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue). They were able to get a good deal on their new home because of a tragic occurrence at a nearby house: several years before a young girl, Carrie-Ann (Eva Link), murdered both her parents before disappearing. She is presumed dead, but a body was never found. Upset about the fact that this tragedy is lowering property values all over town, the citizens wish to tear down the house, but it is still inhabited by Carrie-Ann's older brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), who was staying with an aunt at the time the murders took place. Elissa befriends this sad, sweet man, unaware of the secret living in his basement...
The brunt of the fault must go to David Loucka's script, which is so uninspired as to be painful. The characters interact with each other using boring, cliché dialogue; he writes like a high school English student attempting to pen conversation for the first time. Furthermore, aside from the actual words themselves, the way in which they are spoken is utterly unrealistic. I refuse to believe that anybody is tactless enough to roam uninvited around the house of a man who was orphaned via double murder and immediately talk about how happy his family looks in pictures while bitching about the fact that her parents are divorced.
Of course, a very bad script can be salvaged by good acting, but I can only surmise that none of the actors felt inspired enough by the script or the story to put too much effort into it. Elisabeth Shue's performance matched the script perfectly, coming across as an over-the-top caricature of the formerly-distant-mom-trying-to-be-a-better-parent. Lawrence, on the other hand, seemed to know how bad the script was and thus decided it wasn't worth trying. The paycheck is coming either way.
I mentioned previously that there is nothing really worth talking about in this film, and what makes this all the more painful is that there could have been. There is a scene in which Ryan shows Elissa a seemingly normal tree, but when looked at from a certain angle, a face appears in the bark. “There are secrets all around us,” he says. “Sometimes they're right in front of us.”
As one who enjoys looking for undercurrents in films, this felt like something of a hint, and I began to see an interesting theme revealing itself: an exploration of the ways that people are affected by dysfunctional parenting – or complete lack thereof. Elissa's father left her and her mother, who was never really present and is now trying hard to do the “mom thing,” as she says, and ends up being overbearing and overprotective. Ryan, on the other hand, had his whole family die. In practice, this thematic inquiry wasn't actually very impressive, but it felt like an effort was being made – at first. Then we hit the climax, and everything potentially deep is forgotten in favor of a very routine and boring trapped-in-the-house-with-a-killer scenario. And there-in is the script's ultimate failure: a complete disregard for any and all character development leading up to this point, as well as contradictions and unbelievable explanations.
House at the End of the Street is a lazy film, pure and simple. It is completely uninspired and unimaginative from any perspective. Best forgotten, it isn't even worth the time it takes to discuss it. However, for those who wish to see for themselves, it will be playing at various theaters around the city for several weeks at least. Check local listings for showtimes.
Image: Rotten Tomatoes