Everybody loves Jennifer Lawrence! She gets giddy when she meets celebrities, she fell down at the Oscars, and she recently got a haircut. She’s just like us! We recently got a haircut too! We are so smitten with Jennifer Lawrence that we are willing to overlook the bad movies she made before she was famous. Like “House at the End of the Street,” a cookie-cutter horror dropping that came out, um, last year.
In her defense, Jennifer Lawrence — or, as the kids on the Internet like to abbreviate her name, “Jennif-Lawren” — does a perfectly acceptable acting job, to the extent that it is possible to perform capably in a movie that is designed to repress all indications of quality. She plays a teenage girl named Elissa Cassidy who, like most heroines in horror movies, has just moved from Chicago to a big house in the woods. It’s a new start for Elissa and her recently divorced mother (Elisabeth Shue). The two have a strained relationship for reasons that boil down to “it’ll be easier to introduce conflict into the story if they have a strained relationship from the start.”
The Cassidys’ new home in this rural community is next to a house where four years ago the parents got stabbed to death by their crazy young daughter, Carrie Anne, who fled and was presumed to have drowned in a nearby river. But they never found her body, so now there’s an urban legend (well, rural legend) that she lives in the woods like Bigfoot. Local teens claim sightings, tell campfire stories, probably dress up as Carrie Anne for Halloween. The whole nine yards.
Elissa and her mom are surprised to learn that the murdered family’s surviving son still lives in the house. Which is weird, right? Of course it’s weird. We almost moved out of our apartment once because we saw a spider in the bathtub. This guy, Ryan Jacobson (Max Thieriot), keeps to himself and is shunned by the community for continuing to sleep, eat, and poop in the house where his sister murdered their parents. Everyone figures he’s probably a psycho who’ll snap at any moment. And what better way to help a grieving, mentally unstable person avoid going off the deep end than by spreading rumors about him?
Elissa meets Ryan one night when she’s walking home in the rain and he offers to give her a ride. She follows the advice that most of us learned in childhood and can probably recite from memory: Never get into a car with a stranger, especially if you’ve heard creepy gossip about him, unless it’s raining REALLY hard and the guy seems nice enough, then it’s OK. He does seem nice, too. He’s about 20, all baby-faced and soft-voiced, played by this actor, Max Thieriot, who barely moves his lips when he talks, like a ventriloquist. It makes him hard to understand. Why would you give a speaking role to an actor who can’t speak? You’d think that would come up pretty early in the audition process.
CASTING DIRECTOR: What’s your name, please?
MAX THIERIOT: [indecipherable mumble]
CASTING DIRECTOR: Next.
Anyway, it turns out Ryan’s sister Carrie Anne is neither dead in a river nor lurking in the woods, but is living in a room at the end of a concrete corridor located in a bunker below the basement of the house. Ryan has her locked up and drugged to keep her from killing more people, poor thing, and she snarls rabidly when he brings her food, like an ingrate. Ryan is a good brother to protect his psychotic sister in this manner, and lucky that their family’s rustic New England-y house happened to be built atop an impenetrable fortress suitable for fugitive-harboring.
There is almost a tense moment when Carrie Anne escapes, gets out of the house, and dashes across the lawn toward Elissa’s house, presumably to do some murderin’. But Ryan catches her before she does, and the tension is averted, as the cinema gods intended.
Elissa doesn’t know about Ryan’s subterranean-dwelling devil sister, of course. She and Ryan start to get cozy — it’s her putting the moves on him, just as in so many nerds’ Jennifer Lawrence fantasies — and Mom isn’t happy about it. She sides with the townspeople in thinking Ryan is unhinged, even though friendly local cop Bill (Gil Bellows) assures her that the boy has never caused a moment’s trouble and that the townspeople are just superstitious snobs. Nonetheless, she tells Ryan not to hang out with her daughter anymore. Furious, Elissa gets around this injunction by programming their landline to forward to her cell phone so that Mom will think Elissa’s at home when she calls to check up on her. This is the only movie we know of in which call-forwarding plays a crucial role. (There was a movie called “*69,” but it was about something else.)
Realizing that it’s running out of plot with a lot of time still left on the clock, the movie stalls. Elissa, a singer and guitarist, is asked by some classmates to perform with them at a battle of the bands. Mom starts dating the cop. Ryan tells Elissa more about his past (we think; it was hard to make out).
Then Carrie Anne escapes again and Ryan chases her again. At this point it feels like “Yakkety Sax” should be playing. He catches her and accidentally snaps her neck like a twig, killing her, which seems counterproductive to his goal of protecting her. Also, damn, girl, why your neck so fragile?
What we and Elissa eventually discover is that this wasn’t even Carrie Anne. The real Carrie Anne died years ago. Ryan’s been abducting teenage girls, holding them captive, and pretending they’re Carrie Anne. On account of he’s K-R-A-Z-Y. He was the one who actually killed their parents, too. Turns out the ignorant locals were right! Listen to your neighborhood gossip, folks. It could save your life. Elissa’s own life is briefly imperiled as Ryan tries to make her his next Carrie Anne, but even a dumb movie like this one knows an inarticulate dweeb is no match for Jennifer Lawrence.