Back in the summer of 2010, when Jennifer Lawrence made this low-budget horror thriller, she wasn't an Academy Award nominee for "Winter's Bone" nor an action heroine in "The Hunger Games." She was just an ambitious young actress doing her best to play a feisty high school girl-in-jeopardy.
Seeking a fresh start, divorced hospital worker Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) and her 17-year-old daughter Elissa (Lawrence) rent a beautiful house on Sycamore Lane in Woodshire, a small, upscale, rural town. They can only afford such luxurious accommodations because -- several years earlier -- a double murder took place next door when a young girl, Carrie Anne, killed her parents and then mysteriously disappeared into the woods and was presumed to have drowned, although her body was never found. Her older brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), who was away at the time, lives there now as a virtual recluse, shunned by neighbors who repeat rumors that Carrie Anne is still alive, roaming around at night, doing little to help their property values. Against her mother's wishes, Elissa befriends Ryan, curious about the tragedy that changed his life, bluntly inquiring, "Why do you still live in the house your parents got killed in?" Scripted by David Loucka ("Dream House") from a tortuously twisted story by Jonathan Mostow ("U-571"), it's predictably directed by Mark Tonderai ("Hush"), who was remarkably fortunate to be able to work with two capable actresses who look enough alike to be mother-and-daughter. Oscar-nominated for "Leaving Las Vegas," Shue's once-promising career has, unfortunately, been reduced to recent potboilers like "Piranha 3D." In one scene, Elissa plays the guitar and sings but, reportedly, Lawrence felt so insecure about the quality of her own voice that she asked the movie's music supervisor, Steve Lindsey, to have someone to dub her in post-production; so that's not Lawrence's voice, it's singer Sarah Rayne's.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "House at the End of the Street" is a banal, formulaic 4, striving to rise above strictly superficial scares.