Every young hot leading lady needs to do a horror flick at some point in her career – it’s a Tinseltown requirement apparently – and The House at the End of the Street is Jennifer Lawrence’s. Of course it’s not exactly what it seems shying away from bloody vicious gimmicks and opting for a more psychological brand of horror.
Lawrence is an actress who doesn’t exactly jump for the easy grabs. Even the Hunger Games which was born out of a giant literary franchise isn’t your typical starlet fare. And for the typical young-actress-in-a-cheesy-horror-flick move House is a step above. But despite Lawrence’s solid performance and the film’s attempt to really dig at the complicated psyche of a young girl who falls in love with a (potential) psycho it still winds up being just another horror movie.
The film spends most of its time establishing the cutesy love story between Lawrence’s Alyssa and her boyfriend/enemy Ryan — and an exorbitant amount of time letting the pair make-out like the horny teenagers they’re supposed to be — and only a sliver of the plot actually allows Lawrence’s character to wrestle with her emotions. It’s there but it’s gone in a flash wasting the talents the film has in its corner.
Still for those looking for a schlocky horror film to gobble up on a Friday night House at the End of the Street will certainly do the trick.
[Photo Credit: Relativity Media]
The opening credits of the found-footage excretion The Devil Inside include a helpful disclaimer advising us that the Vatican “did not endorse this film nor aid in its completion ” just in case we might be inclined to believe the Holy See were in the business of making schlocky horror flicks. One’s heart goes out to Satan whose involvement in the film is pretty clearly implied by the title but who received no such disclaimer. Even he deserves better than to be associated with this dreck.
The pseudo-doc-style story centers on a young girl Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) whose mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) murdered three people twenty years prior during what was later revealed to be an exorcism gone awry. Seeking to learn more about the tragedy that consumed her mother Isabella travels to Italy where Maria is currently housed in a Vatican-run mental hospital. The doctors prove frustratingly insensitive to her mother’s affliction causing Isabella to see out a pair of young renegade exorcists (Simon Quarterman and Evan Helmuth) for help.
Maria is one creepy bird a frazzled cat-lady whose eyes blaze with penetrating high-octane craziness even under heaviest of sedation. An early scene in which Isabella meets with her near-catatonic mother and gently tries to ascertain whether her insanity is of the conventional or demonically-inspired variety oozes tension as we wait for her whispered ramblings to explode into full-on Satanic mania. It’s a terrifically fraught scene by far the best in the film and sadly the only point in which we ever come close to being scared.
The film proffers a variety of different narrative threads and chooses to resolve none of them. What happened to the English priest’s uncle or Isabella’s baby? And what of that poor possessed gal with the hemorrhaging vagina? Was she ever able to get that under control? God only knows. Even crazy-eyes Maria the film’s MVP makes an all-too-hasty exit never to be hear from again after a half-baked exorcism attempt.
Director/co-writer William Brent Bell’s clear aim is to mimic the wildly successful Paranormal Activity films but he ignores the found-footage standard-bearer’s most important precept which is to keep the story simple rely as little on the “actors” as possible and pile on the cheap scares one after another. Instead we’re handed an abundance of character details we never asked for and which never really amount to anything save for some choice over-acting in the third act when the devil’s machinations turn everyone against each other. The film devolves into a kind of exorcism-themed Real World episode replete with “confessionals” in which the characters tearfully air their frustrations -- as if we gave a damn. Perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t because The Devil Inside concludes with what might be the least-satisfying horror ending in a decade.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
January 31, 2003 6:11am EST
Some 150 years ago a woman Matilda Nixon was blamed for the kidnapping of two local children and hanged by an angry lynch mob her body burned and scarred by the ray of a nearby lighthouse. After Matilda was buried however the kids turned up unharmed. She now haunts the town of Darkness Falls in the form of the Tooth Fairy and seeks vengeance on the community that lynched her. The film's protagonist is the troubled Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley) who as a child woke up and saw the Tooth Fairy trying to kill him. He has since left Darkness Falls but returns to help his childhood friend Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) after she informs him that her five-year-old brother suffers inexplicable "night terrors." The Tooth Fairy's Achilles heel is light so when a citywide blackout hits the town no one is safe. The story is completely hokey and sparse on details but it is guaranteed to scare the crap out of anyone--even the most faithful horror aficionados.
Staying true to B-movie horrors Darkness Falls doesn't splurge in the star department. Kley who appeared on the small screen in the series Touched by an Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes his feature film debut as Kyle. His performance is a little flat here and his reaction to the Tooth Fairy is a little too blasé--even if this is not his first encounter with her. Another TV alum Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Beverly Hills 90210) is slightly more convincing as she goes from skeptic to worrier to believer in the sinister Tooth Fairy. As her five-year-old brother Michael Lee Cormie is a thoroughly irritating child actor whose soul purpose in the film is to be cute and act vewy afwaid of the dawk. When he is not busy batting his eyelashes Cormie's character spends most of the film in a hospital bed because we are told he suffers from sleep deprivation. Yet Michael is asleep in almost every hospital scene.
Scribes Joseph Harris and John Fasano churn out a screenplay that is highly derivative of Wes Craven Presents: They released last November which revolved around night terrors and things that go boo! in the dark. But while They's villains--little papier-mâché figurines slathered in K-Y jelly--evoked more laughs than scares Darkness Falls' Tooth Fairy has a more sinister appearance: a wretched winged creature draped in black rags that appears wherever light is obscured while making these gnarly breathing sounds. First-time helmer Jonathan Liebesman manages to evoke fear without heavy special effects or blood and gore but by preying on every child's primal fear--the dark--using tried-and-true scare tactics that for some forsaken reason still work. "Why don't we just keep driving? We're safe in the car " a passenger in a car suggests seconds before old Matilda comes crashing through the windshield. It's a typical horror formula that will (I am ashamed to say) get you every time.