The trailer for House at the End of the Street goes all Memento on its viewers from the start, beginning at what appears to be the film’s climactic chase scene, then winding back, in snippets, to a nasty origin story. Thanks to intermittent rewinds, we can gather that the clip unfolds in eight separate sections, each one stepping a tad further into the past. Though presumably saying little about the film that’s represented, this is a rather novel approach to trailer construction, and it’s safe to assume that the one-take conceit of similar spookfest Silent House had a certain influence. The trailer demands that you pay attention to its imagery, which is more than can be said of most previews.
When we first see Jennifer Lawrence (whose other film is bound to make this one an instant hit), she’s fretting up a storm and climbing into a parked car, where a bottle of chloroform foreshadows her heroine’s retaliation. Then we venture back, with the aid of a reversing clock, to see her witness the emergence of a creepy girl, and back again to see her mother (Elisabeth Shue) checking in on her whereabouts. So, that’s three sections down, at which point it’s clear that her boyfriend (Max Thieriot) is linked to the movie’s hauntings. “I want you to leave her alone,” he says of Lawrence’s screamer, speaking, we gather, to the ghastly little girl.
It’s a bad sign that House at the End of the Street opted to dub its antagonist “Carrie Ann,” a blatant echoing of Carol Anne from Poltergeist. Modern horror ought to do all it can to seem unique, and this doesn’t seem the sort of project that will thrive on winking nostalgia. Yet another step backwards in time takes us to a pool party, where Shue and Lawrence’s neighborhood newbies are exposed to the local lore, about how Carrie Ann murdered her family in the house we’ve seen earlier. “That house is the reason we can afford to rent this house,” Shue’s concerned mom explains, exposing the family as both relatably un-rich and punishably opportunistic.
It’s not every day you get a trailer that delivers its content in reverse, and given the dearth of ingenuity that plagues this micro-medium, any deviation is generally quite welcome. But no one should be fooled by a couple of nifty tricks: beneath the surface, House at the End of the Street still looks as generic as the next girl-on-the-run ghost story.
Finally, the trailer retraces the initial dastardly deed, wherein young Carrie Ann clearly massacred her parents, only to be trapped in her house to haunt it ever more. The always-ominous dripping faucet ushers in the fateful scene, and the (sadly) obligatory parting line has Shue’s character assuring her daughter that the home “is going to be really good.” The title then appears, only to disperse into an acronym that makes a handy hashtag (#HATES), revealing a glaring sales priority that trumps strength of form.
R. Kurt Osenlund is the Managing Editor of Slant Magazine’s The House Next Door, as well as a film critic & contributor for Slant, South Philly Review, Film Experience, Cineaste, Fandor, ICON, and many other publications.