On a Christmas Eve drive to the in-laws, a disgruntled father (Ray Wise) takes his family on a slay ride after chancing a shortcut for the first time in 20 years.
This French-produced Christmas horror from 2003 benefits from not being another Killer Santa flick, opting instead for the Claustrophobic trappings of a long car journey with a short-tempered family. Secrets and arguments accelerate to the surface, promising twists and turns that writer/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa fail to navigate.
Their worst manoeuvre makes us guess the ending literally within the first 2 minutes, a reveal they insist on signposting (again literally) throughout the movie. The film has a repetitive roundabout structure, following a drive-death-repeat pattern for a short cut of 80 minutes. The story is also wilfully nonsensical, with characters not having phones and wandering off by themselves like it’s the 1980s.
Dead End‘s dark comedy is deadened by unlikeable and inactive characters, who are disappointingly killed off-screen. A limited budget can be a good opportunity to leave your goriest moments to the imagination, but when the gore is the best part of the film its deficient deployment leaves you dissatisfied. There are however fun performances from Wise in Leland Palmer mode, genre stalwart Lin Shaye and two former Friends people: Ross’ student girlfriend Elizabeth (Alexandra Holden) and Maria from the gym episode (Amber Smith).
The movie emits a certain amount of chaotic Christmas catharsis but the family-phobic will find more in Krampus and the Malcolm in the Middle episode ‘Hal’s Christmas Gift’, whose plot has eerie similarities to this one. Despite some nasty, creepy and funny moments, Dead End lives up to its title.