Katniss Comes to Ottawa

House at the End of the Street
(USA/Canada, 101 min.)
Dir. Mark Tonderai, Writ. Davis Loucka (screenplay), Jonathan Mostow (story)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, Max Thieriot, Gil Bellows, Eva Link.
Well, here’s a film that’s sure to put Ottawa film production on the map. House at the End of the Street stumbles a little as thriller, but it boasts some notable work by Ottawa’s film community. This high-profile pic benefits from a strong turn by popular young actress Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games). However, before she stepped into Panem, Katniss came to Ottawa to film House at the End of the Street and the film is worth noting for the strong presence it makes for our local talents.

Lawrence stars as Elissa Cassidy, who moves from Chicago to a small rural town in Pennsylvania with her mother, Sarah (Elisabeth Shue). (Part of the appeal of Ottawa locations is that our crews can make the National Capital look like any place you want it to be!) The Cassidys get a sweet deal on renting a grand house on the quiet side of town. It’s quiet – ghostly, one might say – because the closest neighbours were recently murdered. Urban legend and gossipy neighbours say that the late Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson were killed one night by their young daughter, Carrie Ann (played by local actress Eva Link). Even more rumours abound regarding Carrie Ann’s disappearance, for she vanished without a trace. Some say that she haunts the woods. Elissa and Sarah understandably get a creepy vibe from the house whenever they look out their window.

Elissa becomes a bit calmer as she settles into the quieter life of the town and makes friends with some locals. Elissa’s best friend, however, becomes the surviving Jacobson son, Ryan (played by Foreverland’s Max Thieriot). Ryan was away from home at the time of the murders. He’s a bit of a recluse, what with the notoriety and all, so he makes the perfect companion for Elissa since she doesn’t know the townsfolk that well. (Their close proximity also makes for a convenient friendship.) Ryan just needs company, it seems; however, Elissa soon learns the town’s darkest and best kept secret.

House at the End of the Street is not a film that begs for logic, but it certainly makes for a fun evening. The first act is a bit slow, but HATES amps the tension and puts Katniss in greater peril as it moves along. At times chilling and creepy, the film might play best for younger audiences (aka Hunger Games fans) in search of an entertaining thriller. House at the End of the Street packs some decent scares, but director Mark Tonderai keeps the violence PG-13 so that the thrills aren’t overdone by mayhem and gore. (Like The Hunger Games, HATES keeps the violence off screen.) The film features a surprising twist, too, so audiences are bound to gasp at least once during the film, as noted by the collective stutter during last night’s screening.

It was fun to see the film with a packed Ottawa audience since House at the End of the Street is an important production for Ottawa’s burgeoning film industry.  Co-produced by local production company Zed Filmworks (The Day), the film was shot in and around town in the summer of 2010 just when Lawrence was breaking into the spotlight. (The filming of HATES was underway around the time that Winter’s Bone opened in town, I believe.) It’s fun to see some locations from around town, especially when they play stand-ins for something else. Correct me if I’m wrong, but are not Elissa’s high school and Sarah’s hospital both shot at Algonquin College? The local flavour is sure to be a novelty for Bytowners, but the adaptability of the locations shows that the city makes for a viable shoot. (The people are much friendlier here than they are in Toronto, if Hollywood needs another incentive.) The Ottawa spend for the film ranges approximately $5 million, which makes for quite a sizable local production. (The film employed approximately 100 local crewmembers, including 15 local actors.)

Perhaps best about House at the End of the Street is its strong production value. For all the faults and flaws of the script, one can’t help but notice the improved tech skills of the Ottawa crewmembers. House at the End of the Street is an entertaining new genre flick that offers Hollywood-level credit to our local filmmakers.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

House at the End of the Street is currently playing in wide release.