Dead End Review
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, deafly 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 from a modern American film. The single location set-up is inspired, as if the low budget helped rather than hindered the film’s production and the writer/director’s 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. It’s 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 director’s 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 Amanda 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 ‘losing it’ hysterics.
Dead End is a great little horror film but it’s major flaw is that the twist ending doesn’t work and comes across as a let down. It’s hardly a surprise, and feels more like a copout 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.
The picture is presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. Considering the film takes place almost entirely at night, the disc handles the photography well, as the black level is consistent and true throughout. Facial tones are fine, and the image has a high level of definition and clarity.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also very good. There is good use of the rear speakers and sub-woofer to maintain a brooding, enveloping sense of dread, and dialogue is clear and nicely separated throughout.
The Making Of Dead End - This 30 minute making-of is excellent, looking at how the film came about, originally starting out as a proposed French film before relocating to America. The writer/director’s discuss, with plenty of enthusiasm, how they went about producing the film, the constraints they had to work with, casting, and how their own script transformed to screen.
Deleted Scenes - Two deleted scenes are introduced by the writer/director’s which makes for interesting viewing, and one scene is particularly funny and would have probably worked if it had been left in the final cut.
Theatrical Trailer and 3 Teaser Trailers - The teaser trailers are worthwhile viewing as they set the film up perfectly with its sense of style and tone. They are all presented in anamorphic 1.85:1.
Dead End doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s all the better for it. Plenty of laughs and shocks along the way, it keeps the viewer enticed and the film’s short running time means it hardly outstays its welcome. The DVD is a tidy little package which perfectly complements the film.