Dead End (2003)

deadend - Dead End (2003)Starring Ray (Jeepers Creepers II) Wise, Alexandra (How To Deal) Holden, Lin (Detroit Rock City) Shaye, Mick (The Contract) Cain

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea & Fabrice Canepa

It really does amaze me how some movies just come out of nowhere, from the ether as it were, and just completely knock your ass down. Being so involved in the latest horror news, it’s bizarre how a movie as powerful and nearly flawless as Dead End could sneak under what I believe is a pretty powerful radar. But it did, and thank God for that.

Ray Wise stars as Frank, a father taking his family out to their mother’s (Shaye) house for Christmas and decides, after 20 years of taking the same route, to take some back roads instead of the interstate. After a minor mishap behind the wheel, his family learns of his decision (since they were all asleep at the time), and the true dynamic of this very dysfunctional group starts to show it’s face.

Oh, and a lot of very fucked up things start happening on the road, as well.

When Mr. Wise presented this movie to us at Fantasia, he described it as such: “I play a father that tries to take a shortcut on a Christmas outing”. That’s pretty much it, and that’s all I’m going to let you know about as far as the plot is concerned, because this is truly one of those films that the less you know about it, the better.

Best known for his role as Leland Palmer on “Twin Peaks”, Wise demonstrates his true capacity as an actor in the role of Frank, a man who is none to pleased with his marriage and most likely life in general. He displays a range that I don’t think we’ve ever seen from him before, but if this movie gets out I really hope he begins to get more and more job offers because he richly deserves them. Lin Shaye, as the wife/mother that is just trying to make their family “normal”, turns in another excellent performance that also displays a wide variety of skills when it comes to being in touch with the human psyche. These two steal the show, and when you have a film that is essential five characters in a very confined space, it’s important to have two (at the very least) that bring a level of talent and professionalism to the table.

One of more powerful accomplishments of Dead End is it’s blend of real white-knuckle fear with actual living, breathing humor. You know how when you read things about how horror movies always incorporate jokes to ease the tension, but the reality is it usually serves to cheapen the overall film? Not here, friends. The humor is just as well done as the horror, and there is an abundance of both throughout. Yes, some moments of tension are broken up by a joke here or there, but when something truly terrifying or heartbreaking occurs, the filmmakers choose to linger on it long enough so that it sinks in that they are not fucking around with you. They really want to freak you out, and they managed to do so to me many times throughout.

On it’s surface, Dead End is a horror film, yes. But when you look at it for all it’s layers, all the horrible family dirt that is dragged up during this long drive to grandmother’s house, it really is a story about family. It’s about the kind of damage secrets can do when they’re kept hidden for too long, and that maybe some skeletons are better left inside the closet. While this concept may turn you off to the film after what I’ve described thus far trust me, it only helps to make the characters’ peril that much more beliveable and finger chewing. That’s right, beyond nail-biting…FINGER chewing. It’s always been said that it’s easier to be scared for a character if you feel you know him or her well, and the filmmakers very much believed that to be the case.

In a time when studios are trying for bigger and bigger budgets and stars to try and scare American audiences, a small film like Dead End sneaks in and manages to floor pretty much everyone that’s seen it. When it premiered at the Brussels Fantasy Film Festival, it won the Public Prize hands down after scaring almost every audience member, and it’s premiere at Fantasia accomplished pretty much the same. The only real gripe I had with the film was the ending, but when you have so many strange, inexplicable occurrences, it’s hard to end the film in a way that will please all audiences. Besides, it’s not about the last, say, five minutes, it’s about the preceding 80 that will hopefully remind you what it’s like to be scared by a good story, excellent characters, and a very simple premise.

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3 ½ out of 5

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