Director Mark Tonderai’s new psychological thriller House At The End Of The Street is in theaters today. With only one other major motion picture under his belt, 2008’s Hush, the former radio DJ and TV writer has reason for anxiety. But there is really only one thing that gives him the cold sweats.
“Only do this career if it’s a part of you. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are,” the British-born filmmaker cautions anyone looking to make films. “It’s incredibly difficult. It’s a long arduous journey. I’ve got a son and I would never encourage my son to go into film. Never. [But] I’ve been writing stories since I was about eight. Telling stories is who I am.”
The trade-off for Tondarai, who wrote and starred in his own sketch comedy show “Uncut Funk” on BBC2 in 1998, is that his calling has been characterized by a mix of foresight and luck. He landed the job of directing HATES through an open directing call and for his second project he got to work with Hollywood’s it-girl of the moment, The Hunger Games‘ Jennifer Lawrence.
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“I cast her just after [her 2010 film] Winter’s Bone,” he reveals. “I was the last person to ever read her. She became huge after she did my film so the movie gods smiled at me. People say I was lucky but I wasn’t. I knew. When she looks at you it’s like she’s looking right through you. I haven’t seen anything like it.”
In House At The End Of The Street Lawrence is a young girl named Elissa who befriends her new neighbor, Ryan (Max Thieriot) whose parents were murdered by his sister. It’s a formula for fear that feels familiar (say that three times fast) but Tonderai says that is by design.
“In a strange way I wanted to keep the title like that to challenge people’s prejudices about these kind of films,” he says. “People hear the title and think they’ve seen it all before but actually they haven’t. I think the title sets up the audience to go ‘I’ve been here before, I know what’s going to happen.’ But it doesn’t happen that way.”
No matter how many tools of misdirection you can employ in film there are some story lines that are scary enough played out in real life. When it comes to the issue of his race (his father is white from London and his mother is a Black woman from Zimbabwe) Tonderai is pragmatic.
“I’m from a place that is very, very racist. We were not allowed to live in Zimbabwe because my parents are mixed married, so I know all about race,” says Tonderai. “One thing I try to do is go into rooms under value of myself. I am always going to be Black but I’m not defined by being Black. I’ve been doing this for a long time and people see what they want to see. I’m kind of just me.”
Find out how Mark Sunderai does with his storytelling in his new film House At The End of The Street in theaters now!