It’s called Dead End, from my experience it’s a horror-comedy, written and directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, a couple of French-Canadian filmmakers who should really be bigger by now. Andrea went on to work with Billy Asher on Big Nothing, another enjoyable film, though not nearly as much. Released in 2003, Dead End won things ‘n stuff.
The film starts off rather nonchalantly. A family is driving to Christmas dinner at Grandma’s house. They argue and bicker, the father, Frank Harrington (Ray Wise) has chosen a side route, and it’s taking longer than anyone had hoped. During a momentary lapse of distraction, Frank dozes off. He wakes up to the sound of a horn as he swerves to avoid the oncoming car. They continue down the road until coming across a woman in all white (Amber Smith). Marion (Alexandra Holden), the Harrington’s adult daughter, gets out and walks to the nearest ranger station, to make room for the woman (who I forgot to mention previously, is clutching a baby).
Once the family arrives at the small ranger outpost, (save for Marion of course), Frank and his wife, Laura (Lin Shaye), head inside, while Richard (Mick Cain), their teenage son, goes off to masturbate in the woods for some reason; leaving Marion’s boyfriend, Brad (Billy Asher), with the white clothed woman. She shows him her baby, who just happens to not have a face. Brad screams and Frank and Laura check on him, but he and the woman have gone missing, and it gets a whole lot weirder from then on.
Horror-Comedy is my favorite genre, in theory. However, too often I find myself watching something that’s only ironically funny, and/or not scary at all. Dead End shines because it mixes the two so perfectly. I held back laughter just as much as I held back gasps, (a true gentleman shows no feeling). The characters were relatable and believable, and their relationships really drive the plot forward, and Ray Wise… Ray Wise cemented his place as the god of my new cult. The cult of Ray Wise. I need to see everything he’s done ever. The man is Jesus and he can take the wheel from me whenever he wants. He does a pretty good job here, but Lin Shaye really takes the crazy cake. When she loses her mind, it is the most hilarious and unsettling thing I’ve seen in a long time. I was worried that the movie would falter comedically after Richard’s death (hey man, I’m doing my best to be spoiler free), but Laura really helps to carry the movie from there on.
Some of the character deaths are genuinely heartbreaking, but it’s all done with an angle that obscures the victims in favor of the reactions of the witnesses. I am a self proclaimed gore-fiend, but this works better than anything I’ve seen in a death scene to date. Everything clicks in this movie so well.
Except then Andrea and Canepa decided to rape us.
There’s a reason for the title Dead End. The movie suffers from the age old cop out of, “it was all a dream!” Dead End builds itself up so perfectly, hitting every mark expertly, only to punch us in our happiness kidneys. It left a bad taste in my mouth, after the, dare i say, “emotional roller coaster” I had been on for the last hour and a half.
I’m not giving them enough credit though, for a cop out, it was nothing if not well explained. Many portions of the story correlate to the real world, and if you stick around for the VERY end (I can’t for the life of me remember if this was after the credits or just at the end of the film), you’ll find it might not be such a cop out after all, but I’ve said “cop out” so many times in this paragraph that I owe Kevin Smith royalties for a reason: despite all this, the end still left me with a poor taste in my mouth, and that’s just not okay.
Andrea and Canepa make a good team, it’s just a shame they dropped the ball there at the end. I really would like to see more from them, Dead End is as witty and charming as it is eerie. It breaks your heart at the end, but hey, doesn’t everything beautiful?