(The gist: I was pleasantly surprised to love Dead End. I thought the characters were brilliantly written and acted, which was more than enough for me to enjoy the movie. Then I was also happy to discover I enjoyed the plot, the gore, and the twist ending. Simply put, I loved it.)
We have all been on them: the family road trip. Especially a holiday pilgrimage to the grandparents. The parents bickering over the fastest route in the front seat, the angsty pothead teenager making snide comments, the grown child with her overly affectionate boyfriend and unannounced pregnancy. We’ve all been there. Dead End perfectly portrays the nuances of the family road trip, and that is what makes it a great movie.
Dead End follows the Harrington family down an ill-fated shortcut to the grandparents on Christmas Eve. Things go sideways once they stop for a mysterious woman on the side of the road then spiral out into a seemingly infinite loop of Hell. The road never changes; they never arrive at their destination. They are only picked off one by one as they are pursued by the strange woman and a large black car.
For me, the success of Dead End was entirely the characters. I was enamored with the characters. Every member of the family was completely fleshed out and round. I bought them as people, and I believed their interactions with each other. They could have been any family I have known, even my own. And as such, I cared; I was invested. I liked them, and it mattered to me to see what happened to them.
I was extremely interested as each of the characters start to psychologically break down. And I loved as they start spouting confessions to each other as things get more and more dire.
It also helps that the characters are well portrayed. The acting is spot on for me. Especially as the psychological strain wears on the characters and they begin to crack up, the actors play it well. Linn Shaye is especially impressive as the mother, Laura. She is so convincing when her character goes nuts.
Beyond just the characters, I enjoyed the premise and plot of Dead End. The characters drew me in, but I stayed intrigued by the story. I was rapt to know what was happening to them, why they could not make progress on the road, who was chasing and killing them. I also loved the twist ending (no spoilers!).
Dead End is also coyly effective with its gore, which I could truly appreciate. All of the death scenes are concealed from the audience. When the characters discover the bodies, we are never shown what mutilation they endured; however, we get the well portrayed reaction of the surviving characters to peak our imaginations. Yet when the gore does appear, it is quality. Like someone getting their lip chewed off mid-kiss. The gore is appropriately shown or suggested to provide the perfect effect.
And most importantly, Dead End answered for me the age old question: does the person who masturbates in a horror movie get taken out just as surely as the person who has sex? The answer, by the way, is yes.