This week, fright fans saw the debut of the House on the End of the Street trailer. Offering us a preview of what’s to come when the film is released on September 21st is director Mark Tonderai, who we exclusively spoke to hours after that trailer made its premiere.
Tonderai directed the 2008 cat and mouse thriller, Hush. Here, he directs Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), Elisabeth Shut (Piranha 3D) and Max Thieriot (My Soul to Take) in a story about a teen (Lawrence) who moves with her mom (Shue) to a new town and learns that their home is next door to a house where a double murder took place. Complications ensue when the teen befriends the massacre’s sole surviving son (Thieriot).
Shock Till You Drop: Well, we saw the trailer and liked its play on the structure – taking the audience backwards through the story. Not to say the film is told backwards, but does this preview hint at perhaps a playful story structure in the film?
Mark Tonderai: No, that was just how they cut the first trailer. It doesn’t have a fractured narrative, the final film is pretty much chronological. It’s a good trailer. Like you, I see a lot of trailers. I’m really critical of my work and when I saw that I was delighted. I’ve never seen a backwards trailer like that. I was very excited when I saw that. It’s difficult for me to have these conversations because you haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m highly critical on my work and what I think people want to go see. The film is a really good and plays well. It’s not what people expect, but I don’t want to ruin it for you.
Shock: My concern, when I saw the trailer, was: How much of the story is given away? So, I presume there is plenty more to come.
Tonderai: Yeah, absolutely. When we were pitching this we used to say, this movie isn’t what you expect. It’s a scary ride, thrilling ride, but to me, the reason why the film works leads you in. The audience thinks they’ve got it figured out and the film is saying, no, that’s not what we’re doing. I can’t say anything, it’s one of those maddening things. I’m trying to hold back what really happens because it’s more enjoyable that way.
Shock: I look at a title like this and I immediately smile because it recalls titles like The Last House on the Left, House on the Edge of the Park, Don’t Go in the House – these lurid, menacing films. How far do you take your movie? How intense is it?
Tonderai: The answer to that, really, is what is your definition of horror? I remember reading Danse Macabre, by the Stephen King, and I’m paraphrasing here. But he had this comment about how horror is this pervading sense of doom coming your way. I remember thinking to myself about that incremental fear coming your way. That’s what that film is. It doesn’t do a lot of blood or violence, but of the same token. But it’s not PG-13, either. It’s not horror-light, as I call it. I hate that. I bring a sense of unquiet and uneasiness to it. Before you can inject any thrill into it, you have to give the characters their due and get to know them. And when you have someone like Jennifer Lawrence, frankly, your job is made pretty easy. You meet her, Elisabeth Shue and Max Thieriot who brought some weight to it. This is less Eli Roth-like gore and more of a Hitchcockian ride.
Shock: The writer on this, David Loucka, also penned Dream House. What’s his deal with houses?
Tonderai: [laughs] I don’t know. But I did do a lot of work on this script to get it in a place that I liked – I don’t get credit. I think he’ll watch it and realize he didn’t know where the story was going either. You get a script, a director comes aboard and they push and pull a few scenes. That’s what happened. For me, the core idea of the film here is a parents love can help who we become and hinder who we can become. I just had a kid, so those issues were something I really wanted to talk about. That’s what I did talk about. These are some of the subtextual things that are in there.
Shock: What qualities did Jennifer Lawrence embody that made her right for your final girl? Presuming she lives to be your final girl…
Tonderai: I had seen Winter’s Bone and loved that. She’s got this strength about her. She’s beautiful, but not that classic beauty look. When you cast a film, you’re looking for your equivalent on screen, which is weird to say. But you want someone who is going to take the material as serious as you. When I made this film, I got into it. I have this 170-page bible that details everything about this film, from history to the pictures on the walls, and I kind of want people to get into it the same way I do. Jennifer had that. When I met her, she was amazing. We got on really well, not in that flirty-flirty way, it was just geniune. I had to work hard to get her attracted to the material and she came on. We did a lot of work. She learned to sing, play the guitar… I saw something online that someone read about how she did this “cheapish horror film” before The Hunger Games and it reallys f**ks me off. No, no, she’s not an idiot and we’re not a cheap horror film. She did this because she wanted to. It was a ridiculous accusation. It belittles her, belittles the film, I know I shouldn’t have read that shit online.
Shock: The film is done and ready to go, so do you have your next project lined up?
Tonderai: Well, you don’t choose your next film, it sort of chooses you. So right now there are a few things I’m looking at. Greenlit films are hard now and rare. I liken this career to a recovering alcoholic, you take one day at a time. I’m contracted for four jobs, one which is being negotiated as we speak and three that I’m writing. But the reality is, who knows? That could change tomorrow, mate. You’re always one phone call away from a job.