Dead End (2003)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #315

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: December 12, 2003 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Supernatural/Black Comedy
Country of Origin: France
Budget: $900,000
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa
Producer: James Huth
Screenplay: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa
Special Effects: Gil Romero
Visual Effects: Roxane Fechner
Cinematography: Alexander Buono
Score: Greg De Belles
Editing: Antoine Vareille
Studios: Sagittaire Films, Captain Movies
Distributor: Lions Gate Entertainment
Stars: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden, Billy Asher Rosenfeld, Amber Smith, Karen S. Gregan, Sharon Madden, Steve Valentine, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Clement Blake

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Greg De Belles Bring It Home

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I have decided to try something a little different and use this appraisal as a means of explaining how Keeper comes to his assumption over whether or not a film is worth its salt. You see, a film like Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa’s Dead End starts with a seven, due to decent production values and performances and, from there, can either flourish or malnourish dependant on how effectively it chooses to tell its tale. A decent example of the latter is Halloween Resurrection, the weakest entry into the long-running franchise fell flat on every conceivable level and ended up garnering a lowly five, the lowest score likely for a big-budget blunderpuss such as itself. While five may seem like an average score, for a lavish production such as that it’s a mark of mediocrity and something of a damnation.

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Dead End enjoyed a limited theatrical run and certainly looks the part, thus it starts at a benchmark of seven. It tells the story of the Harrington family and daughter Marion’s plus-one as they leave the interstate and take the dreaded short-cut down an abandoned country road. Father Frank is struggling to hold his eyes open and this very nearly results in catastrophe as he careers towards oncoming lights like the proverbial moth to the flame almost condemning his entire family to death in the process. While remaining adamant that he continue to pilot their station wagon, it is left to his wife Laura to rally the troops with an impromptu chorus of Jingle Bells. The Harringtons are every bit your average American family, complete with white picket fence and cheek dimples. However, all is not well within the ranks and teens Richard and Marion are clearly questioning the validity of this team-bonding experience.

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The lion’s share of any developments transpire within their alloy chariot as they lurch from one checkpoint to the next which uncannily resembles the last, attempting to escape their paradoxical trappings. Pops tests out the break cables at every opportunity, whilst growing increasingly disgruntled by the over-familiarity of their surroundings and it isn’t long before their potential fate becomes only too tangible. As things become steadily more ominous, the cracks begin to appear in this otherwise content-looking family unit and things turn from bad to far worse as the realization sets in for the Harringtons that their hatchback isn’t the only vehicle straying from the beaten track. A blackened hearse also appears lost although, make no mistake, it knows exactly where it is heading.

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Every time the ominous looking death wagon ghosts pasts I half expect the driver’s side window to wind down and Angus Scrimm to point his spindly death digit at the beleaguered brood whilst bellowing “boyyyyy.” Indeed, anything with wheels and a chassis appears cursed, a statistic cemented by the reappearance of a ghostly abandoned pram and the fact that every time the family hit the tarmac their plight becomes ever more desperate. Reoccurring road signage leading the way to an increasingly elusive exit piles on more woe and a mysterious lady clad in white robes clutching a baby which apparently got switched with the afterbirth is never going to spell safekeeping. In short, we have an ever-intensifying hunch that the Harringtons are royally screwed.

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As mama and papa bear, old hands Ray Wise and Lin Shaye spark off one another like well-greased jumper cables and, the moment where the weathered Laura offers an open invitation for her spouse “to do anything you want to me, anything at all” as an incentive should they survive the night and he greets her blessing with a vague shudder and jutted jaw, damn near caused my engine to flood. Black comedy plays a critical part in proceedings and populates long periods of inactivity where events play out solely within the automobile’s framework. The family’s dysfunction is revealed in humorous fashion and thankfully both Wise and Shaye are more than comfortable within these confines. They bicker, blather on much to their brood’s disenchantment, and suffer personal breakdowns at random points as the gas tank prepares to run on vapors.

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This is the kind of family where appearances can be somewhat misleading and behind the painted-on smiles are a group of people struggling to decipher each other’s various codes. Andrea and Canepa provide a quick-witted script which provides bread and butter for mom and dad and, as it fast becomes evident that the kids aren’t alright, Mick Cain and Alexandra Holden give a decent account of themselves also. Cain plays the role of mildly hateful disposable teen, which I’m assured is the intention, reasonably astutely and Holden releases any pent-up oestrogen via all manner of tears, tantrums and sporadic histrionics competently. However, for as well as they acquit themselves, we’re soundly under parental discretion and the offspring prove to be in more than capable shaky hands with two veterans so seasoned.

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The success or failure of Dead End resonating with its addressee depends solely on whether or not the Harringtons are worth rooting for and it is here that it begins to clamber towards that elusive eight. They kinda are but, in the same moment, part of us wishes for their fateful denouement. Any conflicted aspirations are commissioned through a tight script and at least two unforgettable turns from our front of house parents. As much as it saddens us when something baleful this way comes, part of us desires for them never to locate that exit route and remain in limbo perpetually. Cantankerous bunch us Grueheads. Incident punctuates the silence rather well and the ethereal maiden glances in and out with clinical menace, still grasping her fleshy progeny.

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I’m about to award Dead End the score it richly deserves and I do so on this basis. What started as a seven ended in one also and I felt vaguely discombobulated by the time it reached its well-implemented and treacherous conclusion. This is where it becomes all about the marinade; one must allow the seasoning to settle and, for Keeper, a full twenty-four stretch must pass before coming to any ultimate conclusion one way or the other. This darkly amusing little chiller used that time well and, as a direct result, I would gladly buckle in a second time. Et voila…a weighty eight is squarely within its rights being awarded. It won’t rock your world or become your new favorite movie, but Dead End does take pride in leading you round its primrose path.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: It’s never about what you see and instead what remains ambiguous. A disembodied ear and crispy-coated clutching death palm are all that is facilitated and the most effective shudder comes via audio as one sorry victim has their monologue cut short most decisively during one particularly crowning moment. Meanwhile destitute faces pressed against the soundproofed hearse’s rear window silently screaming works just as effectively as any unnecessary grue. The lady in white drops her shroud for a brief glimpse of her luscious wares but I’m assured that the back view is far more pleasurable than the front.

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