Todd reviews a surprisingly solid straight-to-video flick.

 Frank Harrington just wants to get to his mother-in-law’s house for Christmas a little faster this year. So he takes his wife, son, daughter and her boyfriend on a shortcut off the highway. But after he pulls over for a mysterious woman, dressed in white and holding a baby, the evening begins to go very badly.

Dead End plays out like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. If you’re astute, you may figure out what is going on early because you’ve seen this plot before.

Dead End is straight-to-video fare that probably doesn't get the credit it deserves, though it currently holds an 86% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Some may be tempted to turn off this film after the first ten minutes or so. Rest assured, the hammy acting and cheesy lines begin to disappear as the characters do the same.

In particular, I felt Ray Wise and Alexandra Holden gave solid, believable performances as the father and his daughter, with a terrific chemistry that remains believable in unbelievable circumstances. Lin Shaye's portrayal of a mother slowly going mad from the events around them is downright heartbreaking - and a little creepy to boot.

The story moves along at a fast clip once it kicks in. Unlike the road they are traveling, the plot takes some strange turns. Though we only spend a short time with this family, I genuinely felt for them and their plight and was anxious to see a resolution.

Clearly a low-budget production, they’ve done the best with what they have. are some gory moments, but most of the gross stuff happens offscreen. One could argue this as an intentional choice by the filmmakers, but judging what they ARE willing to show, I think budget constraints are the more likely explanation.

I watched Dead End by myself, late at night, in a dark room, kind of sleepy, which provided the appropriate atmosphere for some spine-chilling moments. Your mileage may vary.

But make no mistake, this is the kind of film that will scare you if you are in the mood to be scared. Even if you’re not, you may still want to stick around and figure out what is going on. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at the end of the ride.

Writer-directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa aren't breaking any new ground here, but they've concocted a solid Halloween tale that appears to have been well received. The claustrophobic car and the surrounding dark woods cast an ominous presence over this poor family, as you never know what might happen the moment they stop and step out into the darkness yet again. I dare not say much more.

Now that you've seen the film...

*** SPOILERS ***

I honestly expected less from this movie and was pleasantly surprised. There are some obvious tip-offs to the ending - the clocks all stopping at 7:30, the fact that they encounter no other vehicles on the road after Frank's "near" accident, the mangled condition of the bodies with no explanation as to why, and the hearse driving them away. There's also that time-space-loop thing - the purgatory road to nowhere - that's been done a hundred times before. And in case you needed it hammered home, Frank gives it all away with the lady-in-white story he tells Marion.

I'm not sure what the cabin represented, other than to give them a reason to pull off the road and explore. Any ideas?

It gets a bit silly toward the end: Frank, I'm talking to you and your list. And why in the world would they think that getting out of the car and walking in the woods is a remotely smart idea?

The concept of the ending worked for me, though the execution was a bit cheesy. The doctor-as-their-destination concept only made sense for Marion, and I really didn't need a Death character delivering the exposition to said doctor - let alone giving her a ride home? Hmm...