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Case Number 05777

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Dead End

Lionsgate // 2003 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 13th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson used to live on a dead-end street... and that's all he's got for this blurb.

The Charge

Read the signs.

Opening Statement

A dysfunctional family goes on a road trip to Hell. And not just in the figurative sense.

Facts of the Case

So we've got the Harrington family…

• Frank (Ray Wise, Jeepers Creepers 2), the quick-tempered husband who suffers from the common male affliction no askus for directionsus everonus!
• Laura (Lin Shaye, Kingpin), the exasperated mom, prone to fits of shrieking.
• Richard (Mick Cain), the teenaged son who takes "being a jackass" to stratospheric levels.
• Marion (Alexandra Holden), the big sister and resident psychologist who tries to hold it all together—before she catches a glimpse of her first dead body.
• Brad Miller (Billy Ahser), Marion's fiancé, who's just along for the ride.

This merry band is off to a Christmas Eve dinner at grandma's, with Frank, at the helm opting to take the scenic route. As he travels the wooded, unfamiliar road, he must endure constant bickering from the back seat, between his jerkface son Richard, and his daughter and her fiancé. The road continues to unwind, and Frank nods off briefly, before snapping awake after a close call. The family, hopped up on adrenaline and pissed, moans and complains, and business for the Harrington clan is back to the usual.

Until everything begins to unravel.

It all starts when the family picks up a strange woman in white, apparently lost on the side of the road. The woman just sits in the backseat, cradling her child, mute and eerie. When Frank pulls over at a cabin to call for help, the terror begins. Brad's screams are heard in the night; the folks reconvene in time to see him being hauled away in a black car. They jump back in their car—the woman in white having vanished—and give chase, only to find Brad a little further up the road, dead and mutilated.

As the film continues, the family attempts to make sense of the madness that has engulfed them, while grappling with the fact that any one of them can be the next to ride in the black car and off to oblivion.

The Evidence

Dead End is a solid little horror flick. It's tense and menacing, well-shot, with the scares arising from the creepy atmosphere and the viewer's imagination. Opting against cheap jump scares—though there are few pretty effective ones—and buckets of gore, writer/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have instead put together a swell little thrill ride, that only suffers from a few too many contrived moments and a twist ending that can be seen approaching from eight miles away.

The filmmakers assembled a fine cast, which turned out to be critical, since the film so is heavily character and dialogue-driven. The weight of the film rests on the interactions between the family members, and each character brings some profound personality quirks to the table. These aren't boring characters. Derivative, sure; but played up with such gusto, you'll forgive the been-there-seen-that personalities of the jerk teen or the temperamental father or the passive-aggressive mother. There's lots of red-faced screaming and hollering and fist-shaking and disrespectful behavior towards parents, and each actor gives it their all to make their characters as over-the-top as they can. Special kudos go out to Ray Wise, who makes his patriarch just south of "Jack Torrence crazy" towards the end of the film.

The thrust of the flick is the mystery that has engulfed the Harrington family. Why does the road they're on never end? Who in blue blazes is the woman in white? And what's the deal with the black car leaving behind a trail of mangled bodies? The uncertainty of who might be next to take the ride, mixed with the always unsettling milieu of a dark, wooded, barren road, generates a decent, sustained uneasiness.

But the obvious nature of the ending, which should be fairly easy for even the lesser-versed in twisty-turny horror, and the goofy way in which it's carried out, mars the experience as a whole. I don't know how I would have done it differently, but the last ten minutes of Dead End stall.

All in all, this shouldn't deter you from giving this movie a look. In this age of over-stylized, blood-drenched dreck, Dead End offers a quality indie alternative.

Lions Gate has thrown the film out in a bare bones package, giving it an uneven full frame transfer that really cheapens the look, and a 2.0 audio mix that fails to impress. Worse, there are zero extras.

Closing Statement

Horror geeks should definitely scope this gem out, and fans of suspense may not want to let it slip under their radar either. Just don't hold the crap presentation against it.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Pop your NO-DOZ and be on your way.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 80
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 85
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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