Carl Foster takes off on a well-deserved weekend break with his family knowing only too well that focus on work has impacted his relationship with his wife, young son, and teenage step-daughter. But after a short but restful break in the journey Carl awakens to find himself tied and bound in an old roadside diner, his family trussed and gagged next to him, and a disparate group of dirty, dishevelled, vagrant-like undesirables keeping them captive. Only time will reveal who they are and what they want, but things are not everything they might seem
A truly terrible movie can sometimes make for a memorable cinematic experience. I still fondly recall a 1989 pile of rubbish entitled “High Desert Kill,” featuring Marc Singer and Chuck Connors as hunters who square off against an alien menace. It was hysterically awful, a film the family and I still have a good chuckle over and often quote some of the more ludicrous lines of dialogue from. To this day, describing something as being able to “rip you open like a sack of manure” will send my old man into fits of laughter. Long before “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” I had my fellow Getzes.
Oh, how I wish one of them had been present to mire through “Dead End” alongside yours truly. Nearly each and every forgettable molecule of celluloid practically begs for ridicule, but cracking asides to a slumbering chihuahua just doesn’t soothe the pain inflicted by a dud. Also released under the even less appealing name of “Hard Shoulder,” this sad sack of a thriller proved to be so humorlessly bad, I had to begin this review by describing a completely unrelated movie. That’s how bad it is.
To refer to the Fosters as dysfunctional is akin to calling Ted Bundy “not quite right.” Though qualifying for the title of Unhappiest Family in Movie History, that nonexistent honor doesn’t necessarily amount to entertainment. Patriarch Carl (Wil Johnson) and wife Maddie (Angela Dixon) seem to have married one another for no better reason other than they both must hate love. Their relentless squabbling that serves as the focal point of the entire first third is an endurance test of the viewer’s patience and temper. Word to the wise: Should you watch “Dead End” (which is not advisable), keep objects at the ready for throwing across the room in frustration. You’re going to need them.
Rounding out the Foster clan are Callum Anderson as Lucas and Frances Speedie as Chloe, the latter belonging to Maddie from a previous marriage. Being unable to spend any longer than thirty seconds in each other’s company, they make the sensible decision to pack themselves into the car and set out on a weekend getaway. Not before, however, we’re subjected to Carl lustfully eyeballing Chloe in her bedroom as she dresses. The undeniable urge to photograph the gorgeous Speedie in her skivvies is perfectly acceptable in a trashy horror flick, but what certainly isn’t beyond reproach is the fact that writer/director Nicholas David Lean feels it needs to be justified and presented within the structure of such a distasteful moment. Whatever happened to the traditional gratuitous shower scene? Allow your audience the opportunity to leer without the nagging burden of feeling dirty about it, please.
Becoming hopelessly lost on a backwoods highway and hearing no end of it from Maddie, Carl decides to pull off the road for a quick nap before resuming the search for civilization. He awakens to find that he and his family have been gagged and bound from the ceiling of a presumably defunct diner. Enter Dog and his grubby cohorts, who make it crystal clear that the Fosters are not the establishment’s guests of the day. As portrayed by veteran character actor Jamie Foreman (“Layer Cake” and “Inkheart”), Dog quickly takes the reins of the film by instantly becoming the most amiable character by default. Suddenly, my attention was once again piqued by the prospect of a reward, in the form of watching this brood tortured for the duration. Since that is precisely what they had been doing to me until that point, fair is fair. I’ll take what I can get from these stinkers.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few well-placed punches delivered to Carl, Dog and the gang (who bear the tired resemblance of background “Mad Max” extras), do nothing more than talk, talk, talk about all of the vile things they have in store. Though hissed tones and kinky face-licking fall under the category of moderately unsettling, they are neither frightening nor exciting. Also failing on both accounts is an overwrought and disgusting scene in which Dog rapes Maddie in a back room of the restaurant, eventually culminating in her becoming aroused and reaching orgasm. Swell.
Though the rest of the cast might as well have been cardboard cutouts with voice overs, Foreman does attempt to squeeze what he can out of the entire joyless enterprise as Dog. Credit must also be granted to his sense of professionalism, as he never seems to be phoning in what could only be a cry for help on his part if not a paycheck performance. Most established thespians would have slept-walk through the role, squinting at cue cards the entire time. I wouldn’t have blamed them.
A quick jaunt into surrealism toward the end is the one stroke of originality Lean displays, but it comes far too late in the day to salvage the picture. It also segue ways into a final twist so utterly unoriginal and stupefying, I feel I owe the film “The Evil Inside” from two reviews ago a heartfelt apology for dedicating so much of that link discussing how utterly unoriginal and stupefying its final twist was. That was an M. Night Shyamalan wet dream compared to what “Dead End” hurls in our direction.
Perhaps I’d have gleaned more enjoyment from “Dead End” if viewed in the company of beloved wisenheimers. I honestly don’t believe I could have liked it less had I been severely beaten with rubber hoses simultaneously whilst watching it, so any change in surroundings would have been an improvement. Given my uncharacteristically high spirits as I tap away at my keyboard, I will refrain from tagging this travesty with the grade it rightfully deserves out of respect to Jamie Foreman and independent film makers everywhere who aren’t wretched failures in their artistic fields. But I want to give “Dead End” that F-bomb, friends. I really, really do.
Dead End (2012)