House at the End of the Street
Author: David Loucka
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:After moving to a new town, a teenage girl befriends the lone survivor of a grisly mass murder, unaware that he has many dark secrets.
Synopsis:In suburban Connecticut, a MOTHER and FATHER are roused in the middle of the night by their teen daughter, MARY JANE, who mumbles incoherently, obviously disturbed. The parents aregue about who should handle it, but before either of them get the chance, Mary Jane kills them both with a hammer before running out into the woods and disappearing. A few years later, ELISSA DONNELLY (16) and her mother, SARAH, travel from Pennsylvania to Woodshire, Connecticut, an old small town. While Sarah marvels at how clean and serene the place is, Elissa complains about how boring it seems. They pull up to their new house, and Elissa is finally impressed — the place is huge. Sarah comments that the house next door was the site of a gruesome murder a few years ago, which drove the property values way down. Over dinner, Sarah takes potshots at Elissa’s absent rock-singer father, to Elissa’s irritation. That night, Sarah sees a car pull up to the house next door. Someone goes into the house. She calls the realtor and learns that RYAN CRAWLEY (19), the son of the couple who was slain by their disturbed daughter, lives there.
Sarah and Elissa enjoy a welcoming barbecue at the Reynolds’ house. KERRI and her husband, BEN, seem like nice people. More than that, their son TYLER is an athlete and an honor roll student. Elissa finds herself attracted to Tyler and is quietly excited when he flirts with her. While they eat, Kerri and the neighbors complain about the Crawley house and the fact that Ryan refuses to sell it. Elissa learns that Ryan missed out on the murder after the Crawleys sent her to an aunt, because their daughter Mary Jane was such a handful. When Elissa finds out Mary Jane was schizophrenic, she wonders why they didn’t put her into a hospital. Nobody knows. What they do know is they want to burn the house down to bring their property values back up. After the barbecue, Sarah and Elissa decide they don’t like their neighbors, although Elissa does sort of like Tyler. The next morning, Sarah prepares for her first day of work — at the radiology lab at the local hospital — while Elissa prepares for her first day of school. They’re both amazed by the size and pristine condition of the high school.
Tyler invites Elissa to a meeting of his friends’ Famine Relief Group. Elissa agrees. After school, Tyler introduces Elissa to his friends. The Famine Relief Group is actually a secret party at the house of whoevers parents aren’t home. Rather than beating the streets for donation, the “group” just asks Tyler’s dad for the money and spends their time partying. Elissa’s uncomfortable with the arrangement, but Tyler convinces her to stay, though she won’t drink or smoke pot. Elissa goes into the bathroom, where she finds JILLIAN vomiting. Annoyed at how wasted everyone is, Elissa tries to leave. Tyler doesn’t want her to. He takes her phone and feels her up, so she smashes him in the crotch and flees the party, accidentally breaking a lamp. Outside, Elissa realizes she doesn’t know her way home. Ryan pulls up in his car, freaking her out until he introduces himself. She accepts a ride home. Ryan is awkward and seems a little creepy, but Elissa doesn’t notice — she’s attracted to his shy yet wounded demeanor. Ryan says he’s heard Elissa singing from his house. She says she wants to start a band here, but she doesn’t know enough people. Ryan drops Elissa off. Sarah spots them and thinks it’s Tyler’s mom. When she finds out it’s Ryan, she’s not happy, fearing Elissa is falling back to the same routines that drove them to move away from the city. Elissa goes to her room and sings, strumming her guitar. Sarah’s okay with this until she spots Ryan watching her from his house.
The next day at school, Elissa is an instant outcast. She bonds with Jillian, a sympathetic ex-girlfriend of Tyler’s. They become fast friends. At the hospital, Sarah befriends a local cop, WEAVER. She asks him about the Crawleys. Weaver’s sympathetic to Ryan’s reasons for not selling the house. He thinks the neighbors are a bunch of assholes for going to such great lengths to push him out of town and buy his house out from under him. Sensing an attraction, he apologizes for his brazen attitude. After school, Elissa drops by Ryan’s house as he’s unloading a huge amount of groceries. She’s made him a mix CD. She looks around the house cautiously and finds that it’s frozen in time, about 20 years out of date. Ryan treats the murder of his family with dark humor, impressing Elissa. She turns on the mix CD, but when she notices him getting lost in seemingly deep emotion, she turns it off. Ryan allows her to see the room where the murder took place — now empty, except for a dark brown stain. It creeps Elissa out, but she’s still strangely attracted to Ryan. As soon as she leaves, Ryan creeps into a mysterious bedroom, where he has Mary Jane chained to the bed. She’s violent and crazy until he injects her with a dose of sedatives. She relaxes and asks about Ryan’s new friend. Ryan gives her enough medication to knock her out.
Sarah gently warns Elissa not to get too close to Ryan — he’s too old for her, and he’s not a lost puppy they can rescue. Woozy, Mary Jane awakens. As Ryan listens to the mix CD, he can’t hear her break free of her restraints and sneak out of the house. When he discovers it, he chases her out into the woods and drags her back. Elissa hears the scuffle but can’t see what’s happening or even recognize it as people. The next day, Elissa and Jillian walk through the woods, talking about Ryan. They’re freaked out when they see a teen girl in a white dress wandering the woods. It turns out to be Jillian’s older brother, JAKE, who’s getting ready for Halloween. Elissa comes home to find Sarah invited Ryan over for dinner. Despite the fact that Ryan is going to community college to prepare for premed undergrad studies and going to regular therapy sessions, Sarah asks Ryan to leave Elissa alone. The dinner gets tense, so Ryan leaves, enraged. Elissa gets mad at Sarah for projecting her own fears onto Elissa.
After much effort, Elissa and Jillian find Ryan’s number and try to call it. The number’s been disconnected. Tyler and his friends come by and harass them. Elissa and Jillian happen to run into Ryan at a store in town. She apologizes for the dinner. Jillian notices Ryan is buying a puzzle, which he claims is for his aunt. Ryan gives them a ride home. After he drops off Jillian, Elissa goes back to Ryan’s house with him. Ryan wonders why she’s so nice to him. Elissa tries to dance around the answer by kissing him. This moves them in the direction of sex, but Mary Jane breaks out of her room and grabs a carving knife. Elissa doesn’t see this, but Ryan does, so he throws Elissa out of the house abruptly. Mary Jane runs out into the woods again. Ryan follows her, but this time he accidentally kills her. Panic-stricken, he puts the body in his trunk and races back home. While in the garage contemplating what to do with the body, Ryan hears Elissa outside. She’s seen the light in the garage and yells an apology. Ryan doesn’t answer. He pulls a gorgeous high-end wig off Mary Jane’s bald head and sets it aside, packing the car with syringes and toys and any other evidence of Mary Jane’s presence other than the wig. He plots a course to the mountains of Maine. There, he buries Mary Jane. On his way back, he stops in Portland and flirts with a pretty 17-year-old waitress.
Over the course of the week that Ryan is gone, Jillian formally introduces Elissa to Jake and his buddy, ROBBIE (who’s instantly smitten). They start playing in a band together. After rigorous practicing, they decide they’re ready for the Battle of the Bands. Ryan calls Elissa, claiming his aunt (the one who likes puzzles) died, which is why he left town. He apologizes. Elissa is immediately back to her focus on Ryan, to the chagrin of her new bandmates. Jillian doesn’t believe Ryan’s story, but Elissa does. They prepare for the Battle of the Bands in the gymnasium. Ryan shows up to support Elissa, but Elissa spots him out in the hall being harassed by Tyler. Ryan storms outside, angry. Tyler and his friends follow, saying hostile things about Elissa until Ryan snaps and beats the hell out of Tyler, viciously snapping his ankle. He’s rushed to the emergency room. Elissa is shocked to find that it’s Tyler, not Ryan, who’s lying on the ground in pain. She races into the woods and finds Ryan. When Tyler arrives at the ER, Sarah is his X-Ray tech. She’s horrified by what Ryan has done — it confirms all her suspicions about him. Worse than that, Weaver mentions offhandedly that Ryan isn’t in therapy or community college.
Elissa and Ryan go back to the Crawley house. Ryan is terrified that he’ll be arrested. Before they can dwell on it, Tyler’s friends throw rocks in the windows, toilet paper the trees, and light his garbage on fire before dumping it all on the lawn. Elissa chases them away and helps Ryan clean up. She notices some odd trash — nail polish, old syringes, vials, and an empty box of tampons. Ryan sends Elissa home when Weaver pulls up to talk to Ryan about the fight. She’s terrified. Sarah shows Elissa photos of Tyler’s leg to shock her into dropping Ryan. The next day, Elissa ditches school. She waits for Ryan to leave the house and sneaks inside, searching for Mary Jane. Down in the cellar, she finds drag marks by the clothes drier. Behind it is a panel, which leads to the secret bedroom of Mary Jane. Elissa is shocked. Ryan arrives shortly thereafter — he’s angry but not psychotic. Elissa tries to convince Ryan to take her to a hospital, where she can get proper treatment. Ryan blames himself for her problems. In flashbacks, we see him at 7, playing rough with a younger Mary Jane, accidentally dropping her from some swings. After he sends Elissa out of the room, Ryan beats on Mary Jane — knocking out one of her sparkling blue contact lenses.
Upstairs, Ryan hugs Elissa sympathetically and finds the contact lens. Realizing the truth, more flashbacks reveal that Mary Jane died, after which his parents dressed Ryan as Mary Jane and forced her to live as their daughter, as punishment for what he did. The identity issue drove him insane. It was Ryan who killed his parents, before coming back years later as Ryan. Elissa has lost her sympathy, so Ryan has no choice but to lock her in the room — but the other Mary Jane is gone. Ryan shoves blue contacts into Elissa’s eyes and shaves her head. He’s interrupted by the doorbell. It’s Sarah and Weaver, searching for Elissa. Acting normally, Ryan lets them search the house. Meanwhile, Elissa breaks free of her restraints and finds her way into a dank series of tunnels built under the Crawley house. It’s here that Elissa finds the former Mary Jane — ostensibly the waitress from Portland — who is disoriented from the drugs. Elissa helps her move through the tunnels, trying to find escape, but it’s a maze filled with hidden dead bodies.
Unable to find any escape, Elissa hears the sound of her mother through the pipes. She takes the girl back through the tunnels and up into the house. Ryan kills Weaver, and just before he can get to Sarah, Elissa hurls an ax through his neck. The FBI digs up the tunnels, finding body after body. They send out a multi-state alert for missing bodies. Elissa and Sarah watch as the waitress is reunited with her terrified parents. A closing scene depicts a grainy home movie of Ryan/Mary Jane’s mother violently beating him, forcing him to wear the wig and act the part of Mary Jane.
Comments:House at the End of the Street strives to be a modern riff on classic suspense thrillers. The story starts with all the right elements, but the third act throws the “modern riff” idea out the window and relies on too many derivative clichés of the genre. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act opens with one of the most well-worn staples of this genre: a grisly murder scene shrouded in mystery, followed immediately by a family moving to a new town. This allows the new people to learn all about the mystery and attempt to draw conclusions based on hearsay and speculation. Although it’s all been done before, the writers combine some fresh takes on old favorites with novel parallels between characters like Tyler and Ryan and the Donnellys and the Crawleys.
The second act settles into an redundant pattern, however. Ryan does something moderately creepy yet easily explainable, Elissa doesn’t find it creepy, and then she consults with Sarah and/or friends, who insist the behavior is indeed creepy, yet Elissa refuses to believe it. It gets tiresome after the third or fourth repeated incident. Although Ryan’s weird behavior escalates — unknown by Elissa until the third act — the writer tips his hand about Mary Jane not being Mary Jane far too soon, robbing Ryan’s struggle to hide her body of any real suspense.
Although the first and second acts are a mixed bag, the third act is a total disaster. For starters, the twist that Ryan spent ages 7-15 impersonating Mary Jane (including killing his parents in that persona) is lifted wholesale from Psycho, one of the most well-known suspense thriller in the history of cinema. Adding insult to injury, the idea that he would go from impersonating Mary Jane to killing teen girls and forcing them to impersonate Mary Jane — all the while returning to the mild-mannered “Ryan” persona with ease — doesn’t ring true. Since these are the big mysteries the story builds to, the fact that they fall flat does a real disservice to the overall narrative. Beyond this, the third act leans heavily on dusty clichés: forcing the heroine to “become” Mary Jane, secret underground tunnels, hapless innocents unaware they’ve walked into a trap, the last-second murder of the big villain in order to save those innocents… All of these moments have been seen before, and the writer does nothing to innovate the conventions or defy expectations.
It’s ironic, considering how muddled and thin Ryan’s psychotic personality is, that the writer devotes so much time to explaining Elissa’s “caretaker” personality. Although he does use her actions to demonstrate this personality, the script includes at least five largely on-the-nose conversations explaining her caretaker tendencies. She’s a character with a fair amount of depth, but repeatedly hammering home this one trait is overkill, especially when it doesn’t add much but a cheap pop-psychology explanation for why she’d find Ryan attractive. It’s not far-fetched to assume a teenage girl would find an older man of mystery attractive, with or without a “caretaker” explanation.
The supporting characters are a mixed bag. As nuanced and subtle as characters like Sarah and Weaver are, the script is also populated with obnoxious stereotypes like Tyler and his parents. While they don’t have much story time, it would have been nice if the writer had tried a little harder to present them as believable people instead of caricatures of provincial yuppies.