‘House at the End ...’ is a small, formula movie

By Gary Clift

Alfred Hitchcock figured out the method that Jonathan Mostow uses to make himself rich. Hitchcock’s method is, of course, the Thriller, a kind of movie he invented while he was still doing silent films in England. Toward the end of his career he could make thrillers so technically superb and substantially imaginative that they are about a lot more than just making the viewer pant in excitement.

Remember the last scene in “Psycho,” when Anthony Perkins has been caught and is alone in a room? We hear the internal dialog between him and his long dead mother. Remember? Well, those who go see the new movie “The House at the End of the Street,” for which cinematic journeyman Mostow is credited as story generator, will be reminded of that scene.

Director Mark Tonderai and writer David Loucka repeat it. Nothing new added to disguise the theft. No prepared excuses. They just repeat the scene.

But perhaps we should discuss what is supposed to be the reason folks will pay for tickets to this movie—which has been advertised as “H.A.T.E.S.” for “House At The End of the Street.” As the movie ran I found myself thinking of it as “H.A.T.E.O.T.S.,” which didn’t make any sense. But it amused me.

I was supposed to be amused by the appearance in the movie of Jennifer Lawrence. The big girl from “The Hunger Games” is getting a try out as a Star. This movie, Hollywood hopes, will give her multitude of young fans a chance to pay to see Lawrence in her first screen appearance since her megahit.

There are two problems with the way this follow-up has been put together. One is that Lawrence is cast with Elizabeth Shue, who can act. It isn’t so much that Shue, who had memorable turns in memorable movies “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Leaving Las Vegas,” overpowers poor young Lawrence.

But the point is that one always knows what Shue’s characters are thinking. And since one is reminded frequently that one can’t tell whether or not Lawrence’s characters are supposed to be kidding, one if forced to contrast the achievements of the two actresses. Shue is subtle and intelligent. Lawrence, apparently not so much. Is she flirting with that guy or sneering at him? One never knows.

The second problem is that the film itself is fairly routine. It follows the basic Hitchcock formula, but doesn’t add anything. So the movie’s villains don’t seem to have any motivation for hazing the poor little character played by Max Thieriot. This is Ryan, a college kid who lives in the house where years ago his young sister supposedly killed their parents one night, then ran away and threw herself into a nearby lake.

Elissa (Lawrence) and her mother (Shue) move in to a nearby house. Elissa befriends Ryan and one night breaks into his house to put out a fire started by unmotivated hazers. Then she goes exploring, pretty much like Vera Miles (Miss Kansas of 1948) does in the Bates house, up above the Bates Hotel.

“House” is a rather confined movie of maybe half a dozen settings and maybe half a dozen characters who get more than two lines. It is a small movie. A formula movie. Nothing more.

Ironically, we may be seeing a new film about the making of “Psycho.” “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson (with Jessica Biel playing Wichita’s Miles) is supposed to be out November 23.

By then only Lawrence’s most devoted fans will remember “H.A.T.E.-O.T.S.”

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