If you'd have told me this was an episode from the 1995-2002 run of The Outer Limits series I would have totally believed you.
That's not meant in any way to disrespect Dead End - for one, I loved The Outer Limits! - but it's just that in its 1hr25min runtime it's so simple in premise and so restrained, almost coy in its gruesomeness, reminiscent of such TV-friendly horror back in the day. And it feels delightfully nineties, too, mainly due to daughter Marion's style (those highlights and that lilac palette!) and a passing mention of Marilyn Manson.
|Alexandra Holden, Ray Wise as daughter and dad, Marion and Frank.|
However, Dead End is indeed its own movie. Written and directed by French natives Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, it's technically a French movie, even though it was filmed in the US, and all dialogue spoken is in English by a majority American cast.
The plot: It's Christmas Eve, and the Harringtons are driving to visit family when dad Frank (Ray Wise, always a delight to watch) decides to take a shortcut. What they encounter as a result is actually the opposite of a "dead end" in the literal sense, as for the rest of the movie they find themselves on a seemingly neverending road through a forest.
In frightening succession, horrible, urban legend-worthy things start to happen: they pick up a woman in white, standing dazed at the roadside clutching her baby; Marion's boyfriend Brad is seen being driven off in a hearse (hammering at the rear window, clearly still very much alive and terrified); son/brother/horny brat Richard meets a sticky end, and they pass a sign for a town that seems perpetually unreachable. The road never turns - cue some really lovely shots of endless trees and their little station wagon trucking along - and yet they keep coming back to landmarks from earlier on.
When the family begins to get picked off, some of the remaining members have a hard time holding it together, and it's these scenes above anything else that I found unsettling. Genre pillar Lin Shaye as the mother makes your skin crawl as she grapples with what's going on, reverting to a childlike insanity that is at once so horrible and very darkly funny (see: eating an entire pie, saying she's fine and then a quick cut to her puking in the background of shot).
The moments of the Harringtons just struggling, arguing and trying to remain calm are written brilliantly. Coming from a family not without its own dysfunction, I really enjoyed the dynamic of underlying love with a sheen of passive aggressive and irritated attitude. Just because you are all facing certain death together doesn't mean you're all suddenly going to get along!
I want to call this one "quirky" but I mean that in the best way. It's so odd at times but it all works together to make a solid, dark, entertaining film, right through to its "shock" ending - which also feels quite television script-y. Again, not a complaint!
It's streaming on Shudder right now so check it out - and make sure to watch to the end of the credits.