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By Shane M. Dallmann

I’d imagine that any film headlining Jennifer Lawrence of THE HUNGER GAMES would be great for opening box office, but the ads I saw for HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (no “The”) led me to pretty much assume that the actual film would be as underwhelming as the last two “House” films I saw (DREAM HOUSE and SILENT HOUSE, if you’re counting).

I like being wrong.

Lawrence is Elissa, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Sarah (Elisabeth Shue). Sarah has recently divorced her no-good absentee husband, but she herself has scarcely been much of a mother to Elissa. Nevertheless, Elissa finds herself uprooted from Chicago (and her band) as her mother attempts to give her a “fresh start” in a remote, forested neighborhood. Sarah can rent the property quite easily, because it happens to be within walking distance of a “murder house” that’s driving property values down to the consternation of almost the entire town.

They can’t raze the place because young Ryan (Max Thieriot) still inhabits it against all odds… everybody knows that his little sister Carrie-Anne murdered her parents in his absence and became an urban legend (“the body was never found…”) in the process. But Ryan hangs around all the same, working on restoring the family house and nursing guilt about the childhood accident that damaged his sister in the first place…

Ryan, of course, is the community recluse and pariah, but wouldn’t you know it–fate (and the fact that the nice, scholarly young man that the neighbors would LOVE Elissa to hang out with is actually a scumbag) soon places Elissa in Ryan’s car, and she gets to know him better… much to the consternation of her mother.

Oh, it’s a horror film all right, but one that plays fairly, one in which all of the characters behave believably and logically (including Gil Bellows as the local law enforcement), one that contains plenty of well-timed jumps, and one with surprises (including a game-changer of a twist that I never would have anticipated). For once, the ads got it just right without blowing the deal.

Screenwriter David Loucka gets far more mileage out of this story (from BREAKDOWN/TERMINATOR 3 creator Jonathan Mostow) than he did with the painfully transparent DREAM HOUSE, and director Mark Tonderai more than proves himself with his theatrical debut. In all, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is one of the year’s best surprises.