Review: Dead End

Posted by Peter Hall - January 28th 2006 @ 1:33 am

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa, 2003

Dead End is one of my favorite films of any genre of the last 5 years. I knew I wanted to write a review of something good for this site, for a change, so I knew Dead End had to be it. I wrote a review for it a little less than a year ago so I’ll just revist that here:

When it comes to the horror genre, simplicity is beyond best. It’s the one genre where frequently the more feeble the material, the better it can be.

Dead End is a monument to this principle. The plot is essentially just a concept film; family driving in a car, lost on a road that seems to not end, encountering things beyond explanation along the way. There isn’t anything complicated about that and there shouldn’t be anything complicated about that. It’s a script that builds in on itself, instead of expanding outwards into new terrortory – yah, I said terrortory. It doesn’t continue to introduce new elements to the fold, in the first 7 minutes it throws it’s hands up and says, “this is what you’re gonna get, so take it.”

And I applaud the filmmakers for this. It’s something seldom done in the genre these days. All too often do horror scripts follow a formulaic plot that spirals outwards instead of simply just constructing a boxed in realm of the film’s reality and then letting the character’s react realistically within it. Dare I say it is actually rather Shakespearean in this way? Oh, I dare. Shakespeare was known for creating a story, believable characters and then letting the play unfold as if the characters were realistically responding to the world created around them. This is exactly the scenario with Dead End. It avoids the most common pitfall of the genre; characters that act without logic, without interest and without motivation. It’s something scriptwriters should pay considerably more attention to. Characters like these possess some kind of magical power that gives a +20 to any cinematic enjoyment. I cast magic characters!

And speaking of those characters, their actions may be realistically responsive, but if it weren’t for the remarkably energetic performances of all the cast then all would be for naught. Ray Wise is the man in this movie. He is just badass without being over the top. He has created out of the father a man who is just trapped in an obviously humdrum life and transformed him into someone you just can’t help but smile at every time he curses at his family. He is just great. Great, great, great. If I had to recommend the movie for any one single reason, it would be to just enjoy Ray Wise.

The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, Wise doesn’t eclipse the few other actors there are, but they all compliment each other like they really were a family. It is the definition of on screen chemistry.

Now, the question you’re asking, is it scary? Yes and No. No, it isn’t balls-to-the-wall horror. The script is kinetic, always driving ahead and only pausing as long as necessary to make a point or get in a scare. It’s because of this that the film will never scare the **** out of you, but when it wants to it’ll keep your heart rate elevated to the point that you’re aware of it enough to say to yourself, “hey, this movie is kinda freaking me out.” I respect that. It knows it isn’t hardcore, so it does exactly what it should and keeps your blood pumping a little faster than normal throughout. I love that feeling. But I also have a wild imagination and so was consistently prepped for an entry into the negative space of the car windows or emerging ever so slightly from the edge of the woods. And that’ll freak my junk out more effectively than what you do see.

Oh, and worth an important note for most viewers, there isn’t a whole lot of gore, it really does leave a sizeable portion up to the imagination (as it should), but what blood there is isn’t over the top and there are no CGI scares. Take that for what it’s worth, but it’s worth a lot to me.

I said in my review of The Dark Hours that I was tired of movies that cop out with an “it was all in their head!” ending, which is true, but Dead End is different. First, I have to point out (because I’ve had several people I recommended it to complain about the ending) that it isn’t all in their head. But, it enters into that territory at the end. That said, I would have preferred a different ending. Not solely because I would have preferred a darker ending, but simply because the ending has an air of unreliability to it. It attempts to mollify the question that the movie never asks, but obviously the viewer will (“what exactly is happening here?”) and I felt that wasn’t really necessary. I liked that the movie wasn’t raising question after question. I liked that it turned its back to the whole issue, so when the events of the last two or three minutes of the film hit the viewer, or me at least, they feel out of place.

All in all, this is a movie that strips away the gloss and glamour prevalent to the genre as of late, establishes the concept and then happily throws what it’s got left at the wall. Yes, it doesn’t all stick, but the tiny things that don’t are more than shadowed by the much larger portions that do. Dead End is worth your time and money. Rent it and watch it by yourself or with a date, but not in a group. A huge group would kill the pleasant intimacy that makes the film work beyond its bounds.

I’m hesitant to say instant classic, because obviously it won’t be universally so, but it deserves that accolade in my book. Check it out.

comments are closed
  1. March 24th, 2006 | 9:58 am | #1

    “Dead End” is a dissapointment in my book.

  2. March 24th, 2006 | 10:24 am | #2

    I’ve heard a couple other people say the same thing, but I think it works wonderfully. It has that relaxed, in-it-for-the-fun-of-it feel, which I really like.

    To me, its vintage family horror.

    I’d of re-writen the ending, but it wasn’t horrible…

  3. Benito
    February 2nd, 2011 | 9:55 pm | #3

    I Watched this movie with my friend in the middle of the night on a Friday night. Well lets get the negitive comments out first. Some of the shots weren’t to great, My first impression was that this was going to be a low budged film that i was going to change off my Nextflix horror que, but then… 10 minutes into the movie, when Amber Smith reviled her baby was “Dead” that scared the crap out of me how jurrasticly the pace of the film changed.. When the daughter is walking to the family and the hearse passes her and her boyfriend “Brad” Is in the back window barely visable.. i really started to get interested, But when the rest of the family hoped in the car to go chase down this unknown kidnapper the soundtrack made me chuckle, it was a little corny but still proved the point of the tension in the film, I did not understand why the majority of the scenes the jeeps windows were completly fogged up, Yet they could see. But throughout the entire film it was really creeping me out how simple all of this was but yet just chilling, The Baby Caridge? The “Richard” (Teenage Boy) getting high and they having a make out session with Amber Smith and then when its all over his lips fell off? The mother creeped me out A LOT! she went completly out of her mind, Just lost it, i Kinda of cracked up at “Hunny, Look at all those people outside, There waving! Oh Dear, They look so sad, Come on Smile!” I lost it at the one.
    But then she jumped out of the car. Pretty gross conclussion to that. Then the father dies, ehh, i really didint get the movie till i made my friend and i watch the Key scenes at least 3 times, BUT THEN, i figured it all out. The girl was dreaming all of that and was delirious from everything so the objects around her where seeping into her dream witch then made me think this movie was awsome, Because ive been really sick before, You get delirious, and things around you seep into your mind, Then i got how Amber Smith and her “Dead Baby” made sense in the beginning because the creepy guy with the Hearse said ” A Woman and A Baby” Plus the family and all, dying, i finally got the movie! i was jumping with Joy, Im a movie nerd ;D but then… The docter Marcott? something like that (a.k.a) the never apearing town in the girls dream’s car wouldent start so Mr.Creepy that aperently Collects gave her a ride? then the credits? I became sad after watching that ending, i was hoping for something a little bit more. The two old guys at the end finding the note… killed it, just killed it… like this movie would have been realisticly scary if they didint find that, then when the found the note about what the father wanted to do when the whole thing was over thing, like common? Now your trying to say that this whole thing was real yet fake? CONFUSED ;[ I Really want more, with the sam Actors! Please make a dead end 2 just as good <3 i loved this movie and i rated it a 5 star on my netflix haha ;] im ordering a copy of the disc and case for my Dvd collection,

    For all you bloggers out there please don't tear me apart if you thought this was a bad Review/Opinion because its my first one and im really only doing this because i cant get the movie off my mind because it was so well done ;D

    ps. Amber Smith is SO HOT ;]

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