(2003)3.5Jason BuchananFrench newcomer Jean-Baptiste Andrea salvages an overly familiar storyline by imbuing it with the kind of refreshing details and interesting, quirky, and sympathetic characters that will likely win over horror fans tiring from overexposure in his 2003 chiller Dead End. Anyone who has seen such films as The Hills Have Eyes or Wrong Turn knows the basic setup of "vacationing group opts to take unfamiliar shortcut with horrific results" as presented here, and though director/screenwriter Andrea does indeed utilize this well-worn premise as a means of lulling viewers into a clichéd hypnosis during the initial setup, Dead End soon swerves wildly off the beaten path following the all-too-predictable first death. It's at this point that Andrea begins to aspire more toward The Twilight Zone than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with the hapless family stuck on a seemingly endless stretch of abandoned road that appears to be surrounded by murderous ghosts. In addition to the supernatural slant that the storyline is given, Andrea is aided considerably in his efforts by a talented cast who aren't afraid to let loose with their characters. As Twin Peaks' Ray Wise does his fatherly best to stave off the insanity brought on by such a horrific voyage, Lin Shaye virtually steals the film as the mother whose frail grip on reality cracks early on and whose rapid mental deterioration quickly takes a turn for the worse. If young Alexandra Holden's role as the tough psychiatrist daughter is somewhat overshadowed by Wise's and Shaye's deliciously warped performances, it's certainly not for lack of trying -- and the relative newcomer does a more than adequate job at providing Dead End's mental anchor and voice of reason. The film's clever balance of laughs and chills succeeds in keeping viewers on their toes throughout, with the emphasis on psychological terror over gore only serving to heighten the tension and anticipation of what could lie around the bend ahead. As with Dead End's basic premise, the "surprise" twist ending utilized by Andrea may also be a bit overly familiar to viewers of such fare, but given the film's energy and relatively brief running time, the good eventually outweighs the bad and viewers will likely walk away satisfied -- even if they do feel like they've taken this road before.