Damn, have I been slacking. Or, should I say — “otherwise occupied?”
Yeah, that sounds a little nicer, I think — my point here being that it feels like positively ages since I took a look at a lesser-seen cinematic effort that originated outside of the good (well, usually) ol’ (most definitely) USA, and for many years now these “International Weirdness” reviews have been a mainstay on these pages. So, for those of you that like ’em and have been wondering where they’ve been — my most sincere and heartfelt apologies. I’ve been so wrapped up in the “effort” of by and large slagging off this summer’s mostly weak slate of studio blockbusters that I’ve just kinda let weeds grow on semi-regular features like this, “Grindhouse Classics,” “Documentary Sidebar,” and others.
Oh, wait — I did just review a pair of documentaries last week, didn’t I? Well, anyway, I’m still largely guilty of blowing off my other “responsibilities” in favor of pissing all over Hollywood’s mega-budget insults to our collective intelligence in recent weeks/months, but now that summer is winding down, I’ll do my best to get back to the usual order of business around these parts — starting right now.
Canadian writer/director/producer/apparent all-around renaissance man Maurice Devereaux’s 2006 Montreal-filmed End Of The Line (available on DVD and Blu-ray from Critical Mass releasing featuring a rather pristine widescreen image and 5.1 soundtrack — extras include a feature-length director’s commentary, a “making-of” featurette, a video recording of a Q&A session from the FantAsia film festival (held, as if you didn’t know, in the same city where this flick was shot), a deleted scene, and a couple of nifty little production outtakes) is a movie that’s been on my radar screen for some time due to the generally positive buzz surrounding it in the indie horror community, but for whatever reason (polite shorthand for ” I had other shit to do”) I just never got around to seeing it until earlier today. And that’s kind of a shame because I’ve been missing out on a pretty solidly-realized low-budget effort with plenty of heart that’s quite a bit better than a good number films that I watched while this one languished towards the back end of my Netflix DVD queue.
Not that Devereaux’s little shoestring opus doesn’t suffer from plenty of the same flaws that many films of its ilk do — inconsistent (to be kind about things) performances, occasionally-dodgy camera work, plot threads that don’t always mesh together as smoothly as they should, and weird pacing that leads to some interminably slow periods in the film are all present and accounted for here, among other flaws, but I gotta give our Quebecois auteur (who really needs to make another movie — he hasn’t done another since this) credit — he does a lot more right than he does wrong.
To wit : the main plot, centering as it does around the trials and travails of an over-worked, over-stressed young nurse named Karen (Ilona Elkin, who delivers the only consistently-strong performance of note here, so let’s single her out for a bit of extra praise) as she tries, along with other equally-under-siege protagonists, to survive a subway ride overloaded with members of an apocalyptic religious sect who are out to kill all unbelievers with crucifix-emblazoned daggers in order to, you guessed it, “save” them from the coming rapture is a tense, pacy little affair that features surprisingly strong practical EFX work, a reasonably-believable premise (just ask anyone who’s had a rough time getting doorstep missionaries at their home to fuck off), and a tight, confined, claustrophobic setting that adds some real “oomph” to the proceedings. The incidental musical score (courtesy of one Martin Gauthier) is intense and atmospheric, the lighting and production design highlight the tension inherent in the script, and Devereaux throws in some reasonably surprising twists and turns along the way that keep you involved in the story, even when the action lags a bit.
All in all, then, a noteworthy effort that, sure, comes up well short of being spectacular, but certainly beats out plenty of the bigger-budget horror efforts coming out of Hollywood in terms of delivering bang for your buck, and helps to further cement Canada’s reputation as a hotbed for independently-produced thrillers n’ chillers. I wasn’t terribly keen on some of the heavy-handed faux-foreboding sequences like the patients in Karen’s psych ward seeming to possess premonitions of coming terror and a rash of suicide jumpers along the train tracks prior to the shit really hitting the fan here, but hey — you gotta have some kind of build-up, I suppose.
Cutting to the chase, then : I’m glad I saw End Of The Line, and wish I’d seen it sooner. The ending kinda comes out of left field as things take a turn for the supernatural, but it works, and nicely caps off a labor of love, sweat, tears, and blood (emphasis on the blood) that genre fans will more than likely find hits all the notes they’re looking for, even if not in precisely the expected order. If a slow-burn horror that offers a decidedly bumpy (train) ride sounds like something up your alley (or, more appropriately, track), then you’ll find a lot to like here — just don’t try the muffins. But do see the movie so you’ll know what the hell I’m talking about with that last line.