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"House at the End of the Street": Don't Root for This Underdog 

Friday, Sep 21 2012
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A proficient suburban thriller that distributor Rogue has left to sell itself through the inducement of Hunger Games' Jennifer Lawrence's presence, House at the End of the Street has at its center the almost-universal experience of teenage mortification at one's family. New kid Elissa (Lawrence), for example, is appalled at the behavior of her mother (Elisabeth Shue) when they have cute-but-misunderstood neighbor Ryan (Max Thieriot) over for dinner. But mom's red wine intake rather pales in comparison to local black sheep Ryan's own complicated home life — he's secretly sheltering the presumed-dead brain-damaged sister who killed their parents in a sub-basement cell in the fatal house, a fact that doesn't qualify as a spoiler, as it's hardly the movie's most shocking revelation. Yes, Ryan, played by Thieriot with a reticence than might be construed as thoughtful reservation or bridled sociopathy, is what you could call a fixer-upper — but he's still an improvement on the small-minded chauvinists at Elissa's high school, so the risk seems like one worth taking. Working from a story by all-around genre specialist Jonathan Mostow, director Mark Tonderai steers the story cleanly around its queasy hairpin turns, perversely toying with one of pop cinema's most cherished clichés: the audience's desire to side with the underdog.

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Nick Pinkerton

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