DEAD END **** UK / USA 2003 Dir: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa. 85 mins
A particularly astute combination of chilly seasonal ghost story and jet black comedy, this wittily conveys the festive period’s monstrous impact on existing, fragile familial relationships. On the night(mare) before Christmas, Dad Ray Wise, Mom Lin Shaye and their teen offspring head off on their annual Christmas journey to the in-laws. Dad’s typically ill-advised short cut leads them to a haunted stretch of road and the restless spirit of a young mother killed years earlier.
Garnering bonafide chills from modest visuals – notably the recurring image of the mysterious old black car driving past surviving characters after each successive death – and sustaining a relatively subtle sense of mounting dread, this triumphs as a spooky horror flick but its strongest facet is its heartless deconstruction of a typical family Christmas. Overwrought, mostly hateful characters find themselves trapped in an escalating nightmare that might only be slightly worse than spending Christmas Eve with Mother In Law / Granma. Shaye flips out alarmingly as the mom, stuffing her face with pumpkin pie before vomiting it back up in the festive tradition of indulgence and puke. Wise nails the father’s descent into whiskey-swigging, face-slapping hysteria, while their pothead son is content to be insensitive when he’s not wanking over a pin-up. A marvellously cynical hate-letter to Christmas wrapped up within a truly eerie ghost story.
Review by Steven West