A brother and sister hold hands as they swing. The brother, slightly older, stronger, swings harder, higher. He moves back in space before his sister does, his hand tugging her from her seat mid-flight. She crash-lands, likely injuring her head and neck. He screams for his parents but they don’t hear.
What happens next? Well if I tell you that, I’d be ruining House at the End of the Street, the 2012 film starring Jennifer Lawrence and, to my delight, Elisabeth Shue (beloved for her turn as Chris Parker in Adventures in Babysitting and as Marty McFly’s girlfriend Jennifer in Back to Future Part II). I watched this movie for the first time recently, in the mood for a bad horror flick. The thing is, it wasn’t half bad; nor was it much of a horror flick, but rather, part drama, part mystery, part psychological thriller.
This film seems to have a pretty bad rep, due at least partially to the fact that it doesn’t hold up as horror. But I think casting away that designation can allow genre-sticklers to better enjoy the movie for what it is.
As an aside, I find most movie plots flawed and believe we can expect little in the way of literary excellence from them; the ensuing philosophy is that we should set the bar low, expecting nothing from a film beyond entertainment. And House at the End of the Street is without a doubt engrossing from beginning to end—a point I wish decriers would acknowledge.
That said, I believe this film has value beyond pure entertainment, despite the barrage of criticisms it has received for its ill-categorization and for its sizable twist. In general, critics and moviegoers alike seem to be down on twists, but I’m not sure that’s always fair.
Sure, they can feel cheap and unearned when poorly executed. Case in point: Silent House, the 2011 independent film starring Elizabeth Olsen (which House at the End of the Street calls to mind at times). Without giving too much away, Silent House’s twist lacks a substantial foundation, and, to further complicate the plot, it unrealistically amalgamates disparate psychoses for its own purposes.
A friend offered up The Sixth Sense as an example of a twist executed well. There are clues to the fact that Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) dies at the beginning of the film, so when we discover that he’s a ghost, we’re simultaneously surprised and not. If you’re astute, you may have guessed as much early on. If you didn’t, you probably had that Ohhh moment at the end, realizing the sense of it.
So, it seems twists are acceptable when there’s a reasonable foundation for them. And I would argue that House at the End of the Street does offer us enough clues along the way to warrant the ending.
The thing is, going into this film, I thought I was watching a bad horror movie. There were many times I questioned certain plot points and character actions, but wrote these off as “holes” resulting from poor writing. But the end of the film resolved these problems (for the most part), showing that these were not plot problems at all, but clues. Had I not assumed I was watching a bad horror flick, had no preconceptions of the film whatsoever, I may have even guessed the ending, as you could with The Sixth Sense.
Twist aside, the film explores the psyche of the depraved—something I’ve always found fascinating, and something which heightens the film’s value. At the beginning, you sympathize with the antagonist; at the end of the film, you still sympathize with the antagonist, though, for different reasons and in a way that’s perhaps more troubling. It’s a nice turn away from the flat, 100 percent evil villains we so often see on the big screen. Because when we can’t sympathize with our enemies, when we fail to see their humanity, what hope we do have for progress?
House at the End of the Street forces us to think at least a little bit about sociology, about how our parents, neighbors, cultures, etc. shape our personalities and behavior. That’s something that always needs to be discussed, because in doing so, we can work toward fostering environments that set people up for success.
And yes, I admit, this is giving House at the End of the Street more credit than it is due. I’m just saying, you should watch it and consider the greater implications.