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It's never a good sign when a major release is not shown to the press ahead of time. (There was a preview last night, but I figured I would wait a day and see it in the big Gaslamp.) Arriving for the first day, first show screening at the Gaslamp, I did a double-take when the concessionaire/ticket taker directed me to auditorium #2. Batman is still playing in the big house, that's how much faith they have in House at the End of the Street.

The booker was right. I counted 6 paying customers in auditorium #1. There was one patron joining me in auditorium #2. Guess where he parked his walker? Right in front of me! He sat in silence except for a few gentle starts whenever the filmmakers chose to juice the Dolby and hurl something at the screen, which was far too frequent.

Jennifer Lawrence, so memorable in Winter's Bone and so bankable after The Hunger Games, takes a crash course at Horror High in this cookie cutter variation on a Psycho theme. Lawrence and her mother (Elisabeth Shue), new arrivals in a rural town, are fortunate enough to land accommodations next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents.

It's no coincidence that Max Thieriot, he stars as Lawrence's strange, and I do mean strange neighbor, landed the lead in the upcoming TV movie, Bates Motel. (Remind me not to set the DVR when it airs.) His preparation to play the surviving son -- Thieriot spent weeks in front of a flat screen polishing up on the works of Anthony Perkins (and Casey Affleck) -- paid off. At least studio scribes threw some meaty dialog Tony's way. Screenwriter David Loucka (Eddie) barely gives Thieriot six words to mumble together.

Based on a story by Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown), there might have been a glimmer of hope had he been allowed to direct. First timer Mark Tonderai knows the genre well and is content to sit back and connect the dots. It takes a true shlump to sever Ms. Lawrence's natural connection with the camera. Tonderai does it with the greatest of ease.

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The only reason adolescent viewers might flock to this PG-13 jump-fest is a chance to see their favorite background wallpaper girl once again cavort around in a tight tank top. A few more career moves like this and she'll be showing a lot more than cleavage in order to keep working. Either that or network drama.

Reader Rating: Zero Stars

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