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DEAD END, 2003
Cast: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden, Bill Asher, Amber Smith
Frank is driving his family to his mother in laws on Christmas Eve when he decides to take a different route through a quiet forest road. After coming to the aid of a mute traumatised lady in white the family soon find themselves up against a supernatural force on the never ending road that starts to pick them off one at a time.
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This small scale spooky film highlights one of the most downright horrifying experiences that can possibly happen to someone on Christmas Eve; a long car journey with the family. There is no escape, no apparent end in sight and every little thing causes an unnatural amount of road rage. Dead End is a horror film that shows that real terror can just as easily come from your loved ones as it can from a knife wielding maniac. Sure, they might not slash your throat but they can hurt you more with a well timed put down or long buried secret.
The film kicks off with Frank Harrington and his family taking their annual trip to his wife Lauraís parents for Christmas. When everyone falls asleep Frank decides to abandon the freeway in favour of a more interesting route to keep him awake. He fails though when drifting off for a second almost causes a crash with an oncoming vehicle. This wakes up all the family in varying degrees of irritability. The film is particularly well cast in portraying a real anti Hollywood family. They love each other but also hate other at the same time.
The rest of the family is rounded out by the younger characters such as the teenage son Richard who is a pot smoking, snarky, possibly psychotic annoyance to the family. His older sister Marion played by Alexandra Holden is sweet natured and level headed who has decided to break up with tag along jock boyfriend Brad despite being secretly pregnant with his child. Brad unfortunately has decided to propose to Marion that night and tries to be diplomatic in the family squabbling.
This dysfunctional family soon come across a spooked woman in white carrying a baby at the side of the road. When they pick her up their nightmare begins. To say any more about the plot would spoil the twists and turns the story takes. The film also ends on a twist that a lot of people will predict and some may feel spoils the tightly built narrative but there is an effective double twist that pulls the film back.
The most effective aspect of the film is the intimate claustrophobic nature of the horror. The action mostly takes place in a car with the rest taking place on the surrounding roadside and forest. Never straying from the location of the long creepy road gives a sense of foreboding that slowly envelops the family. The overbearing nature of the trees, dark night and supernatural shenanigans allows each member of the family to have their own mental breakdown which allows for some very real responses to the terror they are facing.
The supernatural force that is persecuting the family is kept vague until the end where the pieces fall into place. The woman in white along with a mysterious black vintage car are the only physical aspects to the supernatural threat. The rest is presented through cunning use of sound from a woman screaming for help on a cell phone and a baby crying coming from the radio. The soundtrack also has an ominous choir of voices that are heard when the car is shown in long shot from above adding to the feeling that something is out to get this family.
Dead End is an effective little horror. Claustrophobic and tense but with some very dark humour, itís an enjoyable low budget effort. High on atmosphere and with just the right amount of gore that punctuates the quieter moments it is a film that demands a second viewing to see how it all adds up to the twist.