Dead End – Review
Christmas Eve. On his way to his in-laws with his family, Frank Harrington decides to try a shortcut, for the first time in 20 years. It turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life.
It’s December the 8th and time to open another door on our Awful Advent Calendar. That’s ermm awful as in bad things happen, not awful as in terrible…. Anyways, Today we are taking a look at the very interesting and quite unique Dead End from 2003. This is a very unusal movie that is quite different from pretty much anything else I have ever reviewed. It is a lot of fun, though, with a great cast, bags of tension and convincing performances.
Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa. Dead End follows a family as they head to their relatives house for Christmas. The entire movie takes place inside of the car or along the roadside that they travel on. Featuring something of a comedy leaning, this is a movie that aims for tension rather than scares. Without further ado, let’s take a look. I am going to be fairly vague in this review as revealing too much would ruin the movie. I will give a quick breakdown, as always. You can skip that if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
Dead End – Synopsis
The Harrington family are taking a trip to a relative’s house for Christmas. They have presents loaded up and are all packed in the car. This is a trip they have taken many times. On this one occasion, however, the dad, Frank, decides to take a short cut. Not wanting to fall asleep and feeling bored, he thinks it will shorten the journey. His thoughts prove to be incorrect, however. Not long into the journey he falls asleep at the wheel. Woken by the sound of his family screaming. Frank swerves to avoid an oncoming car.
Luckily, the family are all okay and the car is in one piece. Frank refuses to let any one else drive and the family continue onward. A little later in the journey, Frank suddenly slams on the brakes. The family are confused and they ask him why he stopped. He claims he saw a woman in the road. Without warning, the woman appears at the window of the car holding a baby. Marion offers to walk so the family can let the woman into the car. Aiming to find a phone and call for help, they set off while Marion walks along the road.
The family come across what looks like a ranger lodge. They stop to see if there is a phone. Son Richard goes out into the woods leaving the woman in the car with Marion’s boyfriend Brad. Brad attempts to talk to the woman but she won’t reply. Frank and Laura search the ranger lodge but don’t find a phone. Suddenly they notice that Brad and the woman are gone. Marion, who is now drawing closer to the lodge, sees a car approach. It passes her and, in the back, she notices Brad screaming for help. It becomes very clear that something very strange is happening on this road.
Xmas Road Trip From Hell
Dead End follows a family on a Christmas road trip to their relative’s house. This is a trip the family have been making every year for a long time. Frank, who is the patriarch of the family, is driving. Frank decides to take a short cut for first time in the family’s entire history of making the journey. He, apparently, didn’t want to fall asleep while driving. Figuring he should take the fastest route, the short cut seemed a good idea. All of a sudden, the family seem to be travelling on a never ending road to nowhere. Strange and awful things happen each time the family stops. They frequently argue due to their contrasting personalities. As time goes on, the tension builds.
The entire events of the film take place either inside of the car or on the sides of the road. It is a somewhat claustrophobic environment. The more time passes, the smaller the space feels. Frank is a control freak and refuses to relinquish the job of driving. This is despite him already falling asleep at the wheel once already. Laura, Frank’s wife, attempts to mediate but too often finds the task overwhelming. Daughter Marion and her boyfriend Brad hang out in the back with Marion’s brother Richard. Richard repeatedly winds up the members of the car and generally acts like an idiot.
Travelling on a seemingly endless road with no signs or landmarks. The family feels lost and confused. Each time they stop, they encounter something new. A beautiful woman wearing a white gown holding an infant. A baby carriage placed carelessly in the middle of the road. An abandoned ranger lodge. Nothing seems to make sense. The family’s repeated sightings of, what looks to be, a hearse foreshadow terrible things happening. Unable to rationalise what they are seeing. The family gradually falls apart.
A Mix of Horror and Comedy
Dead End is a fascinating mix of horror and razor sharp wit. Despite being rather unsettling in parts. It is genuinely hilarious for much of its run time. There is a range of different personalities in the car leading to an interesting dynamic. As more and more things go wrong, the characters become increasingly unhinged. This opens the door for even more hilarity as the characters clash more often.
The only family member who seems to remain, at least, somewhat in control is Frank. Part of this is probably down to his domineering personality. He has a complete unwillingness to give up his responsibilities. It becomes clear, as the movie goes on, that even he isn’t able to control what is happening. It’s brilliantly well paced and genuinely compelling.
Quirky Christmas Horror
While not being the most obvious Christmas themed horror in the world. Dead End is set at Christmas and the family are off to a relative’s home for the holidays. There are presents in the back of the car. Presents that will be cleverly brought into the plot later on. The thing that makes the Christmas theme so interesting here. Is how the family are forced together, somewhat against their will.
Christmas is a tense time of year, especially when it comes to spending time with relatives. The family have been doing this trip for years. It is completely clear that Frank doesn’t want to go and Richard seems to be less than enthusiastic too. Marion and Brad appear to be in totally opposite places in their relationship. This is despite neither one of them realising that. The only one who is excited about the visit is mum Laura. All of this creates a palpable sense of awkwardness and tension from the get go.
As the movie goes on. The horror is placed in something of a balancing act with the family drama. This is a group of people that have difficulty expressing their feelings. As things begin to go horribly wrong, the family members open up to each other. This is a group of people with some deep secrets. Each of them has things they have been hiding, sometimes for years. Dead End basks in these revelations before suddenly side swiping you with the horror. It feels like it comes out of nowhere. Suddenly you are watching a horror movie again. It is very effective and keeps you suitably off base. It is easy to stay engaged despite the small setting of the car. With each major horror event comes another intriguing revelation. All of it is delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek and is thoroughly compelling.
A Dream or a Nightmare?
It’s difficult to go too deep into Dead End without spoiling anything. Despite that. It’s impossible not to point out just how dream like the events of this movie feel. I am sure you know that feeling of things in your dreams not quite making sense. Andrea has really captured that strange sensation with Dead End. Nothing seems to add up. If you closely observe some of the details, you will see that certain things are amiss. Little things lack continuity and the more you notice, the more you question what is going on. This becomes all the more apparent as the movie enters its final third.
It is somewhat fitting that Twin Peaks actor Ray Wise plays Frank in this movie. There is a somewhat Twin Peaks like uncanniness to what is taking place. The events are very ordinary but something doesn’t feel right. As the family suffer through increasingly horrific events. This feeling becomes even more pronounced. The characters act extremely strangely and it can be quite shocking. The family member’s sudden unfamiliarity imparts on the viewer a sense of unease. The odd behaviour and revelations make them almost strangers to each other.
All of this works extremely well to create a sense of foreboding. I have seen many viewers review this movie and seemingly miss these points. They seem to think they are goofs. In reality, however, they are very deliberate. There is a concerted effort to portray the events in this manner. When taken in context with the ending, it makes perfect sense. Continuity issues and inconsistencies of detail are very considered. They are just part of the toolbox used to keep the viewer guessing. It is fair to say that Dead End would fit in perfectly as a story in The Twilight Zone.
Tense and Unnerving But Not Scary
Dead End is an unnerving movie. It doesn’t aim to scare you with traditional methods. It wants to get inside your head and make you feel uneasy. As mentioned above, the uncanny feeling of the events inside the car do a good job of creating tension. You feel quite unsettled just by the strangeness of what is happening. The appearance of the mysterious Lady In White only serves to further unsettle you. As it becomes more apparent that something goes wrong each time the family stops the car. You watch with baited breath waiting to see what will happen next.
The chaotic feeling that develops as the movie goes on really ups the suspense. You never know what is around each corner. The ominous presence that follows the family is just one of the concerns. As things go from bad to worse. The family become as much of a threat to one another as anything they encounter. As the situation declines, the characters only becomes more desperate. The tension grows and the feeling of unease becomes ever more present.
There are a few parts that could be described as traditional scares. They are very minor, however, and most definitely not the focus. As mentioned above, this is a film that wants to get inside your head. This is something Dead End is very good at. If you are looking for action and jump scares, however, this is not the movie for you.
Dead End acts as something of a character study horror movie. With this in mind, it relies heavily on the fantastic performances of its lead actors. The cast here do a fantastic job. Ray Price, as father Frank, and Lin Shaye, as mother Laura, stand out. Price is absolutely fantastic as the control freak dad. He delivers Frank’s razor sharp wit with a perfect amount of bite. He also carries some of the more dramatic parts of the movie brilliantly well. Price is especially effective when dishing out insults and chastising the family.
Lin Shaye is excellent as she usually is. Laura goes through a number of personality shifts throughout the movie. Shaye does a great job with each other these and has some standout moments that will really make you laugh. Alexandra Holden, as Marion, is absolutely fine. Mick Cain as the annoying son Richard does a nice job of playing a very annoying character. Amber Smith makes a small appearance but isn’t really tasked with doing anything. All in all it is a fantastic cast that does a great job.
A Confused Ending
Unfortunately, Dead End is let down by somewhat of a confused ending. I imagine, for one, it is the type of ending that a lot of people will dislike. For me, I quite enjoyed it and thought it worked well. The problem was, during the credits, there is a question mark placed on the events. For a brief second it all seems to make perfect sense. Some will find it unsatisfying but at least it was conclusive. But then, out of nowhere. There is the suggestion that the events were due to something else entirely.
I can’t understand why the director did this. Could he not make up his mind as to how to end it? It’s a bad move that makes absolutely no sense when you think about it too much. It should either be one thing or another. It can’t be both. I will definitely be covering this in a future ending explained so check back for that.
Not For Everyone
This is absolutely one of those horror movies that will divide viewers. Some are going to love it, others will hate it. The slow paced, claustrophobic, nature of the setting. The bizarre uncanny nature of the events. The heavy leaning towards comedy. It’s all a bit strange and quite different for the horror genre.
For the most part it is a character study with a distinct sense of tension and foreboding. It is never particularly scary, however, and does not feature any real action. If you are looking for fast paced thrills, maybe look elsewhere. If you enjoy slow burn horror with a heavy character driven plot and a lot of laughs. Why not check it out? Dead End has cult classic written all over it. It is one of the better indie horror movies from the early 2000’s.
Is it a Knockout?
Dead End is a mystery horror movie with a wicked sense of humour and a Twilight Zone vibe. Set around Christmas, a family are taking a road trip together when strange things begin to happen. After taking a short cut, the family become stuck on a seemingly never ending road to nowhere. Taking place almost entirely inside of a car. The movie is claustrophobic and full of tension. While not scary in the traditional sense, it does a great job of unnerving the viewer.
There is a heavy comedy leaning here. Dead End is hilarious in parts. The things that happen to the family can be both shocking and somewhat comical. Acting is fantastic throughout and the pacing is perfect. Not for everyone, the mix of comedy and horror might put some people off. This not a traditional horror, either, so don't expect jump scares and action. A disappointingly confused ending is the only real negative to speak of. Other than that, this is a fantastic movie that is well worth checking out.