A dream house in the woods. A fresh start for a struggling mother and daughter. An attractive neighbor with a tragic story … and a terrible secret.
Welcome to the House at the End of the Street.
Sarah Cassidy and her 17-year-old daughter, Elissa, are hoping for a new beginning in the wake of Sarah's messy divorce from her musician husband. As she launches into a new job (she's a doctor), Sarah desperately wants to make up for the years she wasn't there for her daughter. As for Elissa, well, she wants what most teens want: a bit of autonomy, a tad more trust and some new friends at school.
Then things get complicated when Sarah discovers that the house across the wooded way from theirs—a house where an infamous double murder took place four years before—isn't actually abandoned, as she was told. Instead, it's inhabited by a young man named Ryan Jacobson, the older brother of a girl who killed their parents and disappeared.
The legend of Carrie Anne, Ryan's sister, haunts the area, depressing the real estate value and spawning myriad urban myths. Supposedly she died in the woods after committing the murders. Except no one ever found her body.
Not surprisingly, no one really wants much to do with Ryan. Until the Cassidys move in, that is.
Walking home in the rain after nearly being raped at a party, Elissa grudgingly accepts a ride from Ryan. She finds him to be a kind, gentle soul—exactly the opposite of how he's depicted by the gossip mill. Soon the pair strike up a friendship.
Mom's not convinced that's a good idea. It's just too, well, creepy. Don't spend time alone together, she tells them. They agree … and then begin spending time alone together.
Elissa is the first person Ryan has ever told his whole tragic story. It goes something like this: Many years before, he and his sis were swinging in the yard while Mom and Dad got high in their bedroom. Little Carrie Anne flew off the back of her swing, hit her head and suffered irreparable brain damage—damage that rendered her psychotically violent. Eventually, she murdered their parents and disappeared.
After staying with an aunt for several years, Ryan has recently returned to live in the house he inherited. Like Elissa, he's hoping for a fresh start.
But it's hard to start over when you have such dark secrets living in your cellar. So many dark secrets that bear a single name: Carrie Anne.
Dialogue hints that Sarah's been emotionally absent from Elissa's life up to this point. But after her divorce, she's trying to make up for lost time by engaging purposefully and setting boundaries for her daughter's protection. Commiserating with Officer Weaver, Sarah says, "I'm trying so hard to be a good mom for the first time." In the end, mother and daughter help rescue each other when things get much, much worse than either could have imagined.
Sarah is also aware of Elissa's penchant for rescuing strugglers and stragglers (which can be positive personality trait). "She picks out the most damaged person around and makes him her project," Sarah tells Weaver. It's why Elissa willingly gives Ryan a chance. And she's not alone: Weaver is one of the few locals who shows compassion for Ryan, treating him fairly when others don't.
After Elissa's first day at her new school, her mom asks, "How was school? Is your soul still intact?"
At a party, a new friend of Elissa's named Tyler (who's clearly drunk) tries to pressure her into having sex. He shoves her down and tries to get on top of her. Elissa pushes him away and storms angrily out of the bedroom.
Elissa and Ryan have a lengthy make-out session. As things heat up, Elissa heads to the bathroom, saying she'll be right back—a break that could be interpreted as her stopping to use birth control. She tells her mother she hasn't been having "unprotected sex." Elissa also tells her mom, "Just because you were a wasted slut in high school doesn't mean I'm going to be."
Rumors circulate at school regarding Elissa and Ryan's relationship, and someone makes a quip about the "retard" and the "new girl." A couple in a car contemplate having sex there. Elissa, Jillian and Sarah all wear cleavage-revealing tops. Sarah is seen on her bed in a revealing camisole.
Going through the garbage at Ryan's house, Elissa finds a tampon box along with evidence that makes her think Ryan is sexually abusing Carrie Anne.
Right off the bat we see Carrie Anne killing her parents. She bludgeons her mother several times. (We're spared visuals of each impact.) And when she kills her father, a camera shot from under the bed shows bloody pillow feathers falling to the floor.
[This is not quite a spoiler warning.] Carrie Anne is thought to have died in the woods. Instead, we're told, Ryan has kept her under lock and key in a subbasement room because he deems that a better fate than having her institutionalized. He keeps her perpetually sedated, and her bed includes institutional-strength arm and leg restraints. They're apparently needed: She violently attacks Ryan when he tries to feed her, savagely hitting and biting him. She escapes at one point, running, psychotic and deranged, through the woods with a butcher knife. To keep her quiet, Ryan breaks her neck and places her body in the trunk.
We see fuzzy images of young Carrie Anne falling from the swing. Ryan tries to attend an event at Elissa's high school, but he's beaten savagely by Tyler and several friends, who kick and hit him. They also trash his car's windows and (later) try to set fire to his house. Ryan retaliates by badly breaking Tyler's ankle. (We see him twist it and hear a sickening crunch.)
Someone is stabbed in the stomach and killed. Someone else gets stabbed and shoved down a flight of stairs. Elissa is bound hand and foot, and she uses a lightbulb to burn one of her bonds off. (We see smoke and hear her screaming.) She's later knocked out with chloroform and ends up in the trunk of a car next to another dead woman. A man is shot three times, then hit in the head with a hammer.
[Here's the real spoiler warning.] Ryan has been kidnapping and imprisoning a succession of women. And we find out that at least two of them wind up dead. He also confesses to Elissa that it was he, not Carrie Anne who murdered their parents. (We see a flashback of his mother slapping him and screaming at him, driving him quite literally crazy.)
Crude or Profane Language
"A‑‑hole" is said four or five times, as is "b‑‑ch." We hear "d‑‑k" three times, once paired with "hole." Also "p‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n," once each. There are three or four exclamations of "god," and one misuse of Jesus' name. Ryan is labeled a "freak" and a "retard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Adults drink wine and beer at a picnic. Sarah drinks an entire bottle of wine at a meal with Elissa and Ryan. High schoolers have a party at Tyler's house (his parents seem to be absent), where they drink from red plastic cups. An empty Mike's Hard Lemonade bottle is appropriated for a game of spin the bottle. Elissa finds a girl nearly passed out from all the alcohol; later we hear her vomiting.
Passing, joking reference is made to dropping mushrooms. But it's no joke at all that Ryan's mom is shown heating up a hard drug, after which she collapses in chemical-induced ecstasy. Her husband slumps in a chair in the background, and it's implied he's already taken the same kind of trip. As mentioned, Carrie Anne's accident happens while they're incapacitated.
Ryan injects sedatives to control Carrie Anne. Several scenes from her perspective indicate how the drug blurs and distorts her perspective.
Other Negative Elements
Elissa repeatedly lies to her mother. She tells her she's at home when in fact she's not, a deception that involves forwarding calls from the home phone to a cellphone.
Tyler brags about hosting a "famine relief" party for starving children in Africa and Tibet which, in reality, involved him using his father's credit card to make a $1,200 donation. He cynically says the use of the plastic enabled him and his friends to feel good about giving to charity without going to all the hard work of actually having a fundraiser. (It's unclear whether his dad knew about it.)
House at the End of the Street isn't, for once, a remake of some old horror movie from the '70s or '80s. But it feels so much like those films that I had to look it up to be sure.
This thriller starring The Hunger Games' Jennifer Lawrence and veteran actress Elisabeth Shue manages to hit just about every predictable beat in the now-aging genre—from the plucky-but-clueless girl who keeps wandering alone into places she should never be ("Do not walk down those stairs!"), to the tortured, misunderstood hero who turns out to be something much closer to Norman Bates' creepy little brother.
Where this film deviates somewhat from form is that the aforementioned creepiness is relatively restrained. Don't read that the wrong way, though. As the plot twists and turns and unravels, the proceedings get increasingly disturbing. And there's certainly enough violence, sex and foul language here to warrant a warning. But there's less of each content element than you might expect to see in just about any other similar film in the last few years—most of which get slapped with R ratings.
Is that an endorsement? Hardly. Is "Do not walk down those stairs!" still the appropriate response? Maybe so.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Horror, Mystery/Suspense
Jennifer Lawrence as Elissa Cassidy; Max Thieriot as Ryan Jacobson; Elisabeth Shue as Sarah Cassidy; Gil Bellows as Officer Weaver; Eva Link as Carrie Anne; Nolan Gerard Funk as Tyler; Allie MacDonald as Jillian
September 21, 2012
Adam R. Holz Adam R. Holz