Director: Mark Tonderai
Studios: FilmNation Entertainment
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot, Elisabeth Shue
Tagline: Fear Reaches Out… For the Girl Next Door
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: horror, thriller, drama, mystery, suspense, psychological thriller, surprise ending
Scare score: C-
Plot overview: Nonconformist teen Elissa Cassidy (Lawrence) and her young, single mother Sarah (Shue) finally leave the city and find a nice, inexpensive home of their own in a peaceful albeit isolated area of a wealthy town. There’s just one catch: the house next door was the scene of a double patricide committed several years ago by the mentally disturbed daughter Carrie Anne Jacobson. While the girl is now believed to be dead, her body was never found after that night. The only resident in the murder house is her brother, the reclusive Ryan (Thieriot) who gains Elissa’s trust as they start seeing each other. Despite the judgements of Sarah and the snobby townies, Ryan has the support of police officer Bill Weaver (Gil Bellows) as he still deals with the loss of his entire family. And although everything in her new town starts off well, Elissa will soon discover what is hidden in the house at the end of the street.
From the start of the film, we are dealing with a rough and tough mother/ daughter duo, both of whom are strong and even angry, yet sensitive with a knack for music and even a need to be loved by men who seem so absent from their present lives. Long story short, there is a certain girl power feeling behind this whole film although for me that was a completely neutral point. While I wouldn’t consider Lawrence’s performance anything remarkable (or these days, Oscar worthy), there is something so natural about her that I couldn’t help but feel drawn in to her story from the very beginning. The cinematography of this film reminded me a bit of The Hunger Games or even Twilight which is embarrassing but true- there was a certain omnipotent darkness, like a dark grey cloud just beyond the strikingly green forest that most of the movie takes place in and around. From what I’ve gathered, this is right up the angsty-but-beautiful Lawrence’s alley. A self-described “girl-who-feels-the-need-to-fix-everybody’s-problems,” the smart, attractive, caring, damaged-yet-strong, and ‘always-let-your-conscience-be-your-guide’ Elissa falls quickly for the mysterious, damaged-and-showing-it Ryan Jacobson, portrayed by a dark and difficult to penetrate Max Thieriot. He does a decent job acting, and I guess what I most appreciated was that he was able to really keep the mystery going the entire film, tricking us into not trusting him, only to later trick us into caring for him, and perhaps later tricking us yet again…
Back to the girl power bit again, Elissa’s character was clearly a male-made fantasy of the last girl archetype, and yet somehow there is a very real faction of her character, such that anyone might think they went to high school with this girl – while at the same time I’m pulling my hair and calling out the spade that people like this don’t really exist. On a positive note, I enjoyed her guitar playing and singing. There is an excellent commentary made on family in this movie – largely focusing on Elissa and Sarah (the lush) but later also including Ryan and his lack of family. Where is the perfect, nuclear family in this film? It doesn’t exist, save for stuck-up schoolmate Tyler’s (Nolan Gerard Funk) seemingly perfect family – who in reality are ignorant of their son’s poor behavior outside of the classroom and family functions. The idea of family is closely related to the concept and motif of the home, which in part is contrasted from being enclosed inside a home and then loose outside in the woods. So many themes! No surprise that Elissa’s rockstar dad (Sarah’s ex-hubby) is out of the picture though still important to both women. I think it would be easy to conclude that their acquiring a nice house on their limited budget is a move for settling-down- but what could settle the free spirit of these two women – I could go on and on.
That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy either Shue’s or Lawrence’s performances, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had seen this all before. Not to mention all the familiar faces in this movie, with Lawrence now being a household name, Bellows having been the memorable young and unfortunately overly-informed inmate from Shawshank (one of my top favorites), and then I didn’t realize until after the fact that I saw Nolan Gerard Funk star in the title role of Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway a few years back. I love when horror movies have a bunch of big (or medium) names scattered about the cast. Hollay-wooood.
Aside from small errors and other pet-peevy problems- I did enjoy this film. It was one of many movies I got to watch during a long, sleep, transatlantic flight (imagine me taking notes on the film in a small notebook during the flight), and I have to say it was pleasant for the trip. The soundtrack stood out to me although I didn’t write down why so I can’t tell you now. The best part of the movie is all the plot twists which just border on absurd without crossing that line, leaving us in a certain mindwarp of “oh no s/he didn’t!”s. In some moments I just didn’t know who to trust anymore. That always boosts up a horror movie quite a bit, both adding some excitement and in this case even depth to the plot and its characters.
Final critique: This is a pretty easy-to-watch, gateway horror movie. By that I mean anybody could watch this, during the day or late at night, without being too scared. We have our basic mystery, plenty of slow-building suspense, and then even a bit of action, but more than anything else this is a story about teenagers, families, and trust. Maybe it drags on a bit longer than it needs to, but hey, I think this film might find its way into a nice go-to scary movie for younger audiences at sleepovers. Recommended for anybody looking for a relaxing but not entirely boring horror flick.