ead End", a French production by French
filmmakers with an all-American cast, is all geared toward "getting"
the audience with a slick Twist Ending. So, knowing that, your only recourse is
to sit through the whole thing trying to piece together the evidence and
outguess the filmmakers before they can pull the Big Reveal. Of course it helps
if the film doesn't cheat; which, unfortunately, "Dead End" does. The
narrative leaves little room for outguessing the film, which depending on rather
you're the type of person who likes to try to figure out the ending (which I am)
or not, will greatly affect how you respond to the Twist Ending.
Ray Wise ("Jeepers
Creepers 2") stars as Frank, the patriarch of a bickering brood on a
road trip to his mother-in-law's for Christmas. In the car with Frank this long
night is his wife Laura (Lin Shaye), son Richard, 20-something daughter Marion,
and Marion's boyfriend Brad. While everyone has dozed off during the long night
trip, Frank has decided to take a back road, hoping to break the monotony of the
trip and, one suspects, his life. As soon as they encounter a woman in white
standing on the road with her baby, bad things hit the family hard and fast. And
oh yeah, someone in a black car keeps showing up whenever someone dies...
Clocking in at a brisk 80 minutes, "Dead End" has
absolutely no superfluous scenes. It's a taut suspense thriller from beginning
to end, employing all manner of gimmicks and tricks to "get" the
audience. Half scary movie and half comedy, the movie spends its time making you
laugh and jump at the same time. And surprisingly, it's very good at both. Who
knew a movie that had this much mojo going in the Scare Factor could also make
you laugh so much? Most of the comedy comes courtesy of angst-ridden teen son
Richard (Mick Cain), who as all angst-ridden teens are wont to do, is a real
jerk throughout the film. At least, until he bites it.
Wise as the father and Alexandra Holden ("Wishcraft")
as daughter Marion give the movie's best performances. Holden in particular is
good, spending half of the movie being traumatized and the other half trying to
keep the surviving family members alive, even as events spiral out of control,
getting more and more surreal with each death. Wise is a champ, switching from
comedy to horror with aplomb. The script is by co-directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea
and Fabrice Canepa, two young French filmmakers making their debuts with
"Dead End". They've done a fine job, but their wisest decision has to
be casting Wise and Holden as the lynchpins of the movie. Weaker actors would
have surely torpedoed the whole enterprise.
"Dead End" would work fabulously as a straight
horror film had some of the comedy bits been trimmed; on the other side of the
fence, it could have been a comedy farce if some of the more startling horror
elements had been lifted. But as a combination of the two genres it's terribly
effective and vastly entertaining. Many of the funny situations come out of
absurd moments where characters simply burst out with intimate confessions at
the most inopportune moments. As the wife, Lin Shaye probably overplays a bit,
and the script gives her too much to do in too little time, and as a result the
character sometimes come across as too stylized.
The whole concept of getting lost in a back woods is old
hat with fans of the genre, and it might be the only thing that makes "Dead
End" seem less original than it actually is. The only thing missing, of
course, is one of those Generic Inbred Backwoods Hillbillies that crop up in
films of this genre so routinely. Although "Dead End" doesn't look as
if it's operating on a big budget, the visuals are nevertheless impressive. The
film takes place entirely in one lonely night on a single stretch of asphalt
highway flanked by a sea of trees, and most of the scenes take place inside
the car. Thankfully the film is working from a tight script that knows where it
wants to go and how to get there, and it has good actors to pull it off.
If you're wondering about the ending, you shouldn't. As
mentioned, the film really cheats when it comes to giving the audience an
opportunity to guess the Big Reveal. You really can't make a decent prediction
with this movie, for the simple reason that there are very little hints that
would make sense while watching the film. Although the death of each character
does give some hints to the secret ending, it's much too "hidden" to
really qualify as clues. I.e. all the hints will work once the Twist Ending is
revealed, but not before. Not that it should matter. In this case, getting
to the end is the fun part.
For the record, my own reaction to the Big Reveal
was...mild indifference. In fact, I contend that the film would have worked
twice as well without the silly Twist Ending.