Directed by: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa
Written by: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa
Starring: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Alexandra Holden, Mick Cain, Billy Asher, Amber Smith
Released: 2003 / Genre: Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
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Dead End is a simple set-up played out over one night as a family driving to a Christmas gathering find themselves stalked by a woman in white, on a seemingly endless road in the middle of nowhere. It’s the stuff the Twilight Zone thrived on, and Dead End directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa handle much of the film with a sure hand, deftly allowing the intrigue to breed a cold intensity and a hysteria that projects from the characters to the audience.
It’s Christmas Eve, and a family narrowly avoid a head-on collision with another vehicle on a lonely road. Driving on they stop to find a woman clutching a baby in her arms. They offer to help her, turning around and driving back to find help, but no one seems to be around. They leave the woman in the car but when they return one of the family members is found dead, and the woman has disappeared. They quickly get back in the car and drive on, desperately trying to get to a phone but it isn’t long before something else stands in their way, and another dead body is found.
There’s a very European feel to Dead End, made by two French directors, as it chugs along at a pedestrian pace, and concentrates on character and simple plot devices, which is immediately refreshing for a modern American horror film. The single location set-up is inspired, as if the low budget helped rather than hindered the film’s production and the writer/directors utilise the given constraints to great effect. Dead End thrives on the simple, such as a character saying they can see people in the forest or a baby’s carriage suddenly appearing in the middle of the road. Its subtle nature works beautifully to convey a sense of mystery and ambiguity as the family find themselves alone and in danger. Any blood and gore is kept to a minimum, relying on the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks. The directors brilliantly use a low angle shot looking up at the onlookers as they inspect a dead body, their words describing the sight – something we don’t see, but like a great horror novel, we imagine something so disgusting and horrifying, it works on a level that horror cinema can sometimes fall down on.
The script sizzles with great dialogue brimming with dark, sadistic undertones that leaves hardly a scene without its highlights. At times, Dead End is very funny, at other times it’s edge-of-your-seat intense, with some great shocks and twists along the way. Robert Wise is excellent as the father desperately trying to find logic in their circumstances, and Alexandra Holden has a controlled, yet fragile assurance as the daughter. However, it’s Lin Shaye as the mother of the family, who steals the show with some laugh out loud moments and a great transformation from annoying mum to hysterical victim.
Dead End is a great little horror film with one minor flaw, that being the twist ending which doesn’t work and is a bit of a let down. It’s hardly a surprise, and feels more like a cop-out than a natural progression, or indeed something that shocks or really fulfills the film. However, for the most part, the film works terrifically well, and should have a lot of people eagerly anticipating Andrea and Canepa’s next project.
Review by Daniel Stephens