Sunday, May 03, 2009

End of the Line

Title: End of the Line (2007)
Dir: Maurice Devereaux
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars

As any seasoned metro commuter could tell you, subways naturally lend themselves to fears like crashing and claustrophobia. Canadian horror film End of the Line takes the terror to another level by adding demons, a crazy religious cult, and the apocalypse. It is not without its flaws, but the movie has solid scares, cool gore FX, and a thought-provoking script. Writer and director Maurice Devereaux goes beyond the standard genre conventions and delivers a unique twist on survivalist horror.

After a record number of crazies pour into the psychiatric ward one night, young nurse Karen boards the last subway train home. Despite a rough work day and being accosted by a creep on the subway platform, her nightmare only just begins when the train stops in the middle of the tunnel. Some of the passengers receive mysterious beeper pages and suddenly start killing the others with crucifix-shaped daggers. Karen and a small group of survivors escape into the tunnel system to evade the attackers who, as it turns out, are members of a religious cult. Believing the end of the world has come, they take it upon themselves to “save” everyone by killing them, before demons can get a hold of their souls.

The acting in the film is not always top-notch but the characters are likable enough. On the down side, there are way too many of them. In Karen’s group, there is a guy she met on the subway, a religious girl and her horny boyfriend, two rail workers, and then another two characters who serve little purpose other than to be abused and/or killed. On the crazy side, there is an insane old lady, a creepy rapist (whose resemblance to Quentin Tarantino makes him that much creepier), and a slew of other cult members. The excess of characters leads to a few boring conversation scenes that drag the film down and should have been cut.

Devereaux’s script is unique and thought-provoking. The true villain in his story is a televangelist, whose cult is cleverly disguised as a children’s charity and recruits its members by handing out psychotropic muffins. The significance and prevalence of these muffins throughout the movie is pretty amusing. The cult members are very scary in a Wicker Man-kinda way, where you absolutely cannot reason with them. They completely believe in the validity of their murderous agenda. So when demons really do show up, you start to question who is truly the insane one? Has Armageddon really come or did you eat a muffin today? Thankfully, Devereaux leaves this question open for the viewer to decide.

Devereaux excels as a director as well, telling his story in a nonlinear fashion, while staying remarkably consistent. The film is not without a sense of humor either, especially when it comes to satirizing religious fanaticism. He handles the horror aspect quite well, too. Personally, I think an old lady stabbing you with a crucifix and singing about God is 100 times scarier than most horror villains these days. The demons are pretty scary too, especially one subway scene involving a mentally ill girl.

The movie is also occasionally brutal, so much so that it might shock you. Be warned: children and babies are not safe here. The gore FX are great, with the exception of a few fake shots early in the movie. Highlights include one character getting the Pez dispenser treatment courtesy of a sword, and a very fucked-up “family portrait” scene. Over-the-top, perhaps, but I promise you won’t soon forget it. Even the demons are costumed actors, rather than CGI. I cannot praise this decision enough!

My biggest complaint about End of the Line is the slow scenes. It strays off on a few unnecessary tangents, but when it gets back on track (no pun intended) the film is smart and scary. It is not perfect, but it has Maurice Devereaux’s talent as a writer/director and it delivers effective scares and gore. The movie does not make subways seem as scary as Cloverfield or 28 Weeks Later did, but it will definitely make you think twice about Jehovah’s witnesses and free muffins.