Movie review

Dead End
Ray Wise, Alexandra Holden, Lin Shaye,
Mick Caine, Amber Smith, Billy Asher

Directors :
Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa

Dead EndIt's Christmas Eve and Frank Harrington (Ray Wise) is driving his car, stuffed with his family and Christmas presents, to spend the festive holiday with his in-laws yet again. Frank is not happy with the prospect of spending time with a mother-in-law who has never approved of him, a gun crazed brother-in-law and a wife who simply refuses to spend her Christmas anywhere else. His long suffering wife Laura (Lin Shaye) tries to force some Christmas cheer into the dreary journey, battling against her husband's moaning and her son Richard's (Mick Caine) adolescent jibes. Her daughter Marion (Alexandra Holden) and boyfriend Brad (Billy Asher) do their best to rise above the growing journey tension and Richard's increasingly crude comments.
    The scene is set, and it is one that everyone can immediately identify with. Crammed into close proximity with people you don't necessarily get along with, facing the prospect of enforced frivolity with long distant relations whose only bond is blood and not friendship. Bored with the same interminable ritual Frank decides to take the scenic route, and in doing so seals the fate on his bickering family.

The road that they find themselves on is long, straight, and never-ending. Occasional signs to a town that isn't on any map taunts them with the hope that the road will end, and the nightmare they face during the journey with it. There are no other cars and night darkened woods flank the road, forcing the family unit tighter together than anyone could ever comfortably be. The cadaverous spectre of a lady in a white dress (Amber Smith) clutching a child to her chest haunts their path. And, at each appearance, heralds another atrocity for their small group. One by one they descend into madness, with a comedy that is most definitely born of hysteria. These small scenes are only funny because we able to view them as observers, but they are so conceivably real and utterly hideous. Most notable is Laura's regression into childish behavior, her mind no longer able to cope with the horror of her new reality. This comedy does nothing to relieve the tension of their situation, but increases their fear and pulls them further down into insanity.
    Thankfully, this film is not a gore fest, and the femme fatale in white is seldom seen. Instead we are presented with the breakdown of the family as their contempt and love for each other is slowly uncovered. The horror is mainly psychological, with the bloody mutilations kept to a minimum and never fully revealed. After all, our own imaginations are much better at conjuring our deepest fears and visceral terrors. The main plot is predictable and quickly second guessed, but this is only a backdrop to the terror inflicted upon this hapless, ordinary family. A terror that is delivered sporadically and with bizarre quirkiness, so you can never hope to anticipate what will happen next.

This low budget film brings with it a nostalgia for a time when horror flicks invaded our nightmares and had us clutching for that protective pillow or hiding behind the sofa. It certainly made me jump more than once, and instead of a pillow I had to substitute my scarf. The last time I felt this on-edge when watching a film was at six years old and being presented with the Daleks for the first time.
    Dead End is one of the few new horror films that has any right to be included in the scary movie category. Face-hiding, nail-biting, screaming terror that will leave your nerves jumping all the way home from the cinema.

:: Sarah Oliver

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