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Dead End DVD Review

Dead End

July 21, 2003

Director: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa,
Starring: Ray Wise, Alexandra Holden, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Amber Smith, Billy Asher, Steve Valentine, Karen S. Gregan, Clement Blake, Jimmy Skaggs, Ivan Kraljevic, ,

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DVD Review

A family travelling down a country road become lost and start to die in mysterious circumstances.

The rather bonkers brainchild of two French screenwriters who wanted to direct their first film but were told their idea was too ‘un-French’ for their arty home country, so they took it to Hollywood where, as luck would have it, horror was still flavour of the month and they got the greenlight almost immediately. Dead End is just kooky enough to have attracted attention and awards at various film festivals, but its limited budget and mix of surreal comedy and David Lynch visuals meant it was never going to be a mainstream hit.

Frank and his family are driving to their parents on Christmas Eve when he decides to take the scenic route for a change. Unfortunately he falls asleep at the wheel and, narrowly escaping an accident, the family wake to realise they’re lost in the woods. Things don’t improve when a ghostly woman appears on the side of the road carrying a dead baby. The family offer to drive her to the next town for help but then she disappears and Laura’s boyfriend is brutallly murdered.

The story that unfolds could almost be a stage play: the same stretch of road passing as several different locations, the family bickering in the car, road signs that lead to nowhere…or perhaps it would have worked better as a short film because there just isn’t enough material here for a full movie (it feels stretched despite the anorexic eighty-two minute running time) and the smart ones in the audience will have guessed the ending from about halfway through.

But in short bursts the film offers up some genuinely entertaining moments. Witness the younger brother tormenting his sister’s boyfriend: “Don’t forget to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your ass!” Or the wife going totally bonkers after seeing a dead body on the road and deciding to mess around with the shotgun. But where the bizarre comedy succeeds, the supposedly growing menace fails. The directors try to have their cake and eat it. If they had decided upon a straight horror or a horror-comedy they might have made something a little more solid.

The cast each get some killer lines as they’re trapped in the car, forced to keep each others’ spirits up as they search for a sign of civilisation through the trees. Wise is again typecast as the father who has a dark side (Twin Peaks anyone) and Lin Shaye, a favourite of the Farrelly Brothers, seems out of her depth. Only Holden creates any real sympathy for her character and, after her work on Friends and the mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous, perhaps she’s the one to look out for in future. Dead End is quirky and unpredictable enough to keep your attention throughout, with some interesting cinematography and snatches of dialogue, but the ending is pure schoolboy English essay stuff. Still, if you’re after something different, Dead End may be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

Special Features:

There are a few teasers and the trailer, which shows the elements you’ll like most in the film, and a couple of deleted scenes. The only real thing to get your teeth into here is the making of, amusingly entitled ‘Stuck on This Bloody Road’, which concentrates mostly on the new directors and their measly eighteen day shooting schedule.

If you like David Lynch and American Pie, you’ll like Dead End as it’s an odd mixture of the two.

 

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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