Saturday, January 30, 2010

And You Thought Your Commute Was Rough

As stated before, the outcry over Lions Gate’s shelving of Midnight Meat Train riles up a nerve in my defenses. It’s not that I support a major studio burying an original horror film in dollar theaters and DVD bins; I just wish all the boo hooeing by genre fans was aimed at a worthier movie.
And now, having watched Maurice Devereaux’s End of the Line, I have even more reason to dislike that other subway slasher, because here’s a unique, timely, and actually scary little horror far more deserving of Internet campaigns.

Quick Plot: A young psyciatric nurse named Karen (Ilona Elkin) sadly accepts the news that one of her patients has thrown herself in front of a subway. Muffins and freaky drawings from the late woman’s files  provide little comfort, and things only get worse when Karen’s subway ride becomes the kind of nightmare every commuter fears. First, there’s the creepy homeless guy leering over her shoulder, followed by the fact that--much like my last night’s commute in the freezing cold--the train seems to be running on a random and inconsistent schedule. To make things worse--okay, horror movie worthy--the train soon hits a delay and Christian fundamentalists with the world’s best cell phone reception embark on a crusade to “save” the souls of fellow straphangers.
Because I love a pleasant surprise and love you, I’m digging out some roadblocks to stick right here:

As a warning: I want to discuss this film, but what made my initial viewing so enjoyable was, in part, the fact that I knew very little about End of the Line. While it doesn’t have a Martyrs-style switcheroo, there is something really neat about some of its unexpected plot developments so if you haven’t seen the film, YOU SHALL NOT PASS.
Or something. Just skip to Rent/Bury/Buy and come back after you’ve followed those instructions. Don’t make me page you.

A disclaimer: There are probably just a handful of subjects I find more fascinating than Doomsday cults. There’s something so strangely horrifying about human beings surrendering everything that seems to make them who they are for some undefined greater being pent on eventually destroying their very existence. Also, I ride the subway every day and am constantly imagining a variety of horror movie scenarios that could occur at any given stop. For these reasons, End of the Line was quite possibly made for me.
Devereaux’s portrayal of the religious fanatics is eerie for a bucketful of reasons. Yes, it’s creepy to see nice middle aged women stabbing straphangers with crucifix knives that belong in a Children of the Corn playpen. It’s also unnerving to note the Hilter Youth-esque jumpsuits and at-peace smiles on every murderous character’s face. More importantly, Devereaux seems to ground the cult in popular Christianity.

I want to tread lightly here and try my best to not make any of my mere blogging comments into attacks on religion. I have no issue with anybody living a life based on personal faith, but those who try to force it on you when you just want to listen to a cuss-heavy podcast on the subway or trick-or-treat for candy rather than doomsday pamphlets aren’t just annoying; they’re judging you by essentially demonstrating that they believe you’re not worthy of heaven. I appreciate how End of the Line’s fanatics wanted to actually help their victims, straight down to apologizing when mass suicide had to take priority over fatal stabbing. 

Back to the controversy I can’t seem to put into words, doomsday cults--and any religious sect that has an end date in their pre-determined future--are terrifying because their members simply can’t value this life as much as the next. If, for example, a world leader believes in the possibility that The Rapture will occur and that when it does, he’ll be judged worthy, what’s to stop him from pushing the button to detonate the next world war? The characters of End of the Line are so confident in their beliefs that none of the physical pain they cause registers as anything other than God’s will. It’s not their actions that makes this a frightening film; it’s their complete lack of regret.
At first, the final moments bothered me as a trite betrayal. Since The Believers and Frailty, I’m far less surprised to discover that the crazed extremist characters in a genre film were right, and more importantly, I’d have been a tad annoyed to feel as though I misjudged everything onscreen for the previous 100 minutes. Thankfully, Devereaux’s ending was far more clever than I had initially realized. Upon listening to some of the extras, it became rather clear--even if nobody is willing to fully admit it--that the sneaking suspicion I had was right: there were no demons. There were, however, some powerfully mixed muffins eaten throughout the film by every character we notice see visions of rubbery monsters, mouthless ghosts, and tunnel dwellers dirtier than mole people. Pass the electric Kool-Aid, we’ve got some tasty spiked pastries that need washing down.

High Points
Although End of the Line doesn’t go too far into the backstories of their villains, the cult members are still individually drawn with the kind of precision rarely seen in horror. From the suddenly unchaste Sarah to the conflicted teenagers, the choice to show that some parishioners had actual doubts added a more human layer to the killings. Gray is always more interesting than black and white, particularly when it comes to morality.
I’m normally immune to jump scares, but for some reason, the very first pop made my drop my nacho
For the most part, Devereax has his main group of protagonists react to the horrors with refreshing believability. As much as we in the audience know to stab first, ask questions later, if any of us couch potatoes were actually in this kind of situation, we would probably find it near impossible to beat a teenager to death with the crowbar quivering in our hands. I appreciated that the commuters were genuinely conflicted over having to resort to homicidal violence. Even the young stud--the first man to kill--spends his last few moments asking for reassurance that he did the right thing. 

Similarly, none of End of the Line’s characters demonstrate the kind of superhuman survivalism often summoned in these types of films. Their action sequences are messy and chaotic, consisting simply of frightened people swinging hand tools at stab-happy Christians. Since we’re not watching SWAT team members or retired boxers, this makes perfect sense

Low Points
Overall, the performances are adequate and nobody stands out to drag the film down, but it also feels as though none fully step forward to add anything overly special to their characterizations
Once I put some of the pieces--or crumbs--together, I was a little more accepting of the final shot, but I still found the last ghastly baddies to feel a tad too Halloween porch ready

Lessons Learned
If you want people to join your cult, perfect a recipe for hallucinogen-laced muffins
1980s style punkettes are pretty damn fierce when the going gets tough

Mental patients are quite talented when it comes to colored pencil artwork. Look at that shading!
Ironically enough, nobody can complete an abortion faster than a Born Again

Always keep mace accessible when riding the subway. You never know when you’ll have to escape the clutches of a horny priest hung up on virginity and the fact that he resembles the homeless love child of Paul Bettany and Quentin Tarantino

In order to seduce a virginal fundamentalist, the secret is to kiss her earlobe
End of the Line is a definite watch, and a possible buy if you find it the right price. The DVD is loaded with extras, including a coy but interesting commentary, thorough making-of featurette, and a few more goodies. It’s not a film I’m return to often, but the original concept and spirited execution defnitely merits a revisit somewhere down the, ahem, line. More importantly, be on the lookout for Devereaux’s next film. Not only does he tell a good story on a meager budget, he also has mastered the art of referencing other masters without being annoying about it. One of my biggest pet peeves in indie horror is when directors think it’s cute to use a famous horror director’s name for a character. It’s not so much a wink wink as it is a smacking-you-in-the-face-with-a-frying-pan-emblazoned-with-an-obvious-reference-on-the-bottom (think “Dr. Savini” from The Dead Next Door). You don’t name a character Argento; you name him after the main sound mixer for a bunch of Argento films. That's the sign of a promising filmmaker.


  1. EOTL was #15 on my top 20 list of 2009.

    I loved the crazy religious cult (it was like Waco members on a train) but that ending came out of nowhere.

    End of the Line was the sleeper hit of 2009 for sure.

  2. Very nice list! There's a few on yours I'm still waiting to catch--Thirst and House of the Devil, to name a few--but I'm glad to see End of the Line catching some well-deserved praise in the virtual world. I really do think the ending was a hallucination--note that tiny smile on Kate's face in the last shot. And though Devereaux never comes out and says it, he does make reference to the muffins throughout the commentary and kind of says "Notice who eats it and what happens after." The same thing happens with Sarah.

    Even if you take it as real, and that the demons DO indeed come to earth in the finale, it remains a thoroughly good horror film. I don't mind an ambiguous ending that can go one of two ways, as long as I can believe the director him/herself fully knew which was the truth.

  3. Loved this and so glad more people are discovering it. Made excellent use of the obvious low budget and was able to be scary and thought-provoking to boot.

    Great review!

  4. Thanks Chris! I'm really looking forward to what Maurice Devereaux does next. Based on this film and his talk in the extras, he seems like a filmmaker with a great handle and passion for the genre.

  5. Yep, was pretty good, with some great gore FX. And the first jump scare is pretty great.

  6. It was, right? Glad to hear it, as I'm normally never prone to jump scares but the first one reallllllly got me. Whew. I worried I was getting weak in my old age.