Jenny: Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s Dead End (2003) follows the Harrington family on a long Christmas Eve drive to visit distant relatives for the holidays. After an unfamiliar shortcut gone awry and a few violent incidents, the family finds themselves on a dark and desolate road with no end in sight. Where are they? And who is the mysterious woman in white?
The film stars Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Robocop) as the patriarch Frank Harrington, the fantastic Lin Shaye (Insidious, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams) as his wife Laura, Mick Cain (who eerily resembles the Stephen King/Joe Hill family) as their rude son Richard, Alexandra Holden as their good-natured daughter Marion, and Billy Asher as Marion’s bland fiance Brad.
crowbait: At the start we’re introduced to the Harringtons, a delightfully dysfunctional family all with secrets and shames and all trapped together on the overlong car ride. None of these people are likable from the start and it’s a testament to the acting abilities of Lin Shaye and Ray Wise that they are able to bring us around to feeling sympathy for them. The others are not so successful. The overeager boyfriend, the smart-mouthed brat son and the wishy-washy daughter provide fodder for the story but don’t bring much else to the film. With that small cast and enclosed space the film relies entirely on the performances so the one-dimensional nature of some of them disappoints. The good news is that those are the first to die.
The plot is a sequence of strange events and, like the performers, is a mixed bag. Some spooky frights with a woman in white and her baby appearing by the side of the road and the strange recurrence of babies’ cries are affecting. As are tricks like the never-ending road straight through an impenetrable forest and the loop back to the road when they try to set out on foot. Other events are more confusing than scary, often owing to the odd behavior of the characters, even before people start dying on the road and reappearing trapped in an old hearse that passes by. The end result is a film marked by some moments of real success but long stretches of confused nothingness.
(By strange coincidence I just saw an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a group of pilots gradually cease to exist. The first to go was named Harrington.)
StayFrosty: Crow covered much of my thoughts on this movie. Lin Shaye and Ray Wise give excellent performances. They manage to convey being terrified and also keep humor in the film without losing the creepiness (when there is creepiness). I’m not as pleased with the acting of the boyfriend and the siblings, who are less successful at carrying out the premise. And why does everyone keep wandering off when it’s clearly a death sentence? Haven’t they seen ANY MOVIE EVER??? And while there are a few creepy moments, they don’t last. Can’t we just have a movie with Lin Shaye all the time?
Jenny: Adding this film to the Christmas queue was my suggestion and I certainly have a more charitable opinion of Dead End than my merry band of horror bloggers. I couldn’t agree with them more about Lin Shaye and Ray Wise. Their performances, equally comedic and tragic, easily outshine the rest of the cast. As the film is practically written for the stage or a radio drama, better talent and more effective use of visual expression would have made a big difference. (though the scares conveyed through audio and dialogue are often quite good)
Dead End isn’t a great film. It’s incredibly predictable with an ending reveal that’s been done a thousand times. Some of the performances do fall flat. Even so, I think its quirky tone, which rides the fence between cartoony humor and frightening supernatural horror, is charming and fun.