In The Hunger Games, nobody who knows better would mess with Jennifer Lawrence’s ultra-survivor Katniss Everdeen, but in her upcoming horror thriller House at the End of the Street, the 21-year-old actress stars as someone a lot more vulnerable — though just as threatened.
Lawrence’s character and her mother (played by Leaving Las Vegas actress Elisabeth Shue) move in next door to a house that was the site of savage murders years ago, only to learn that the young man whose family was slaughtered (Max Thieriot, Chloe, My Soul to Take) still lives inside. He and Lawrence strike up a friendship that starts to edge toward romance, but then she discovers some twisted secrets.
So what’s happening in this shot? Director Mark Tonderai (the 2008 road-trip thriller Hush) is reluctant to give away too much, but obviously Lawrence’s character is freaking out big-time. “She’s basically managed to get into Max’s house, waiting for his character, and she’s made a discovery there about his family and is trying to hide before her presence is detected,” he says.
Thieriot plays a 21-year-old who lingers in the house against the wishes of the other neighbors, who would rather forget both him and his family’s horrific history. “Since he lives in this house and is driving down people’s home values, he’s very ostracized in this town,” Tonderai says. “The murder was committed by his sister, and she disappeared into the woods. There’s this rumor she still lives in the woods. People have seen her, and she’s insane. But is she out in the woods? And if she is, how does she feel about her brother getting involved with somebody else?”
You can probably guess — she’s not happy.
Lawrence is one of the few people who view Thieriot’s character sympathetically. She has some family history she’d like to escape too, though it’s not nearly as creepy.
“She’s a high school kid, about 17, and they’ve just moved into this new area,” Tonderai says. “Her father was in a rock band and was never around. The mother, in the early part of her life, was always out on the road with her husband taking drugs and getting drunk. When she cleaned up and they got divorced, she was always out working. Suddenly, she thinks she wants to engage and be a parent, but at this point her daughter is becoming a woman and has been left to herself for a long time. She rejects these overtures of motherly love.”
Part of the story is about the damage bad families can cause. “I wanted to talk about how a parent’s love can help us or hinder us in becoming the people we are,” the filmmaker says. “It’s very much about a girl who’s becoming a woman, but her mother still feels she can do an audit on her life. The daughter is rebelling against that. She’s the petulant daughter, and [Shue] is the mother who doesn’t understand.”
House at the End of the Street opens Sept. 21.