[review by J Kerswell]
END OF THE LINE puts the mental in fundamental.
For a subgenre that relies on repetition and familiarity (often this is
part of its charm), it is always good to come across a film that uses
the slasher movie as a basis for ground-breaking social commentary and
asks intelligent questions about the issues of today.
This is one such film. Despite some limitations – which I’ll come to later – it works as both a commentary on a modern malaise (namely the proliferation of religious extremism), as well as working as a highly effective slice of slasher mayhem to boot.
The Montreal lensed END OF THE LINE centres around a young psychiatric nurse, Karen (Ilona Elkin), who is having a tough day. One of her charges swallows a rosary in a mania, and she finds that another of her recently discharged patients has thrown herself in front of a subway train after having visions. On the radio are seemingly endless reports of suicide bombings around the globe, and everywhere are pamphlets and posters promoting an evangelical Christian cult led by a bulbous, but seemingly innocuous looking leader.
On her way home, she is hassled by a wild-eyed man, Patrick (Robin Wilcock), on a seemingly deserted underground platform, before being rescued by a geeky guy, Mike (Nicholas Wright), who she had been flirting with moments earlier. In an about face, she explains to him that she’s had one hell of a day and just wants to sit alone.
The subway train is sparsely populated; mostly made up of polite followers of the religious cult (dressed in what look like khaki Nazi uniforms), returning from a rally. They sit glassy eyed; a benign look on their faces. For an unknown reason, the train lurches to a stop mid-tunnel. Karen is reunited with Mike. And then quickly a seemingly kindly middle-aged woman, Betty (Joan McBride), also enters the carriage to enquire what is happening. As they are discussing their predicament, the woman’s beeper goes off; she looks at it before unsheathing a blade hidden in a crucifix and attacks them. The end of days have begun …
END OF THE LINE is unashamedly inflammatory. It takes the basic concept of the religious zeal needed to drive people to kill others in the name of God. Unlike the suicide bombings that are sadly so familiar to us today, the army of neatly dressed, conservative looking killers are not fighting what they see as a religious war, their unholy crusade is kill to ‘save’ the souls of people before the end comes. In other words, they are committing bloody mayhem with love in their hearts – a distinctly creepy proposition. What is even more disconcerting, the film plays with the idea that these murderous zealots might actually be right, and it really is judgement day. Shadowy black creatures with glowing red eyes – demons as the zealots call them – also lurk in the tunnels, and a number of characters have shocking visions of violence and people with shredded faces. Then again, the film also plays with the idea that a mass hallucination is driving the slaughter. Amongst this uncertainty – and the knowledge that all hell has quite literally broken out above ground – a small group of survivors desperately try and make their way to sanctuary, wherever that might be. To add to the sense of confusion and paranoia, you are not always immediately sure who belongs to the cult …
Devereaux incorporates a number of different horror elements into END OF THE LINE. He takes the visceral slasher violence of his previous SLASHERS (2001) and works in something much more esoteric. Certainly, the influence of recent Asian horror is strong, with shadowy figures with their back turned towards the camera reminiscent of films such as THE EYE (2002). He also has two Asian actresses in the film, which may be a nod towards the East.
The film also uses an intriguingly non-linear approach, whilst not becoming overly muddled. This means that the fates of those on the subway train can be played out concurrently, and we slowly get to see the full threat that the protagonists face. It also suggests that the beginning of the film is actually the end, also.
If I had to make any criticism, it would be that Devereaux is sometimes hampered by obvious budget restrictions – hardly his fault. Certainly, a bigger budget may have helped realise the true scale of the unfurling apocalypse (although what we do glimpse is artfully done in a minimalist way), but it is doubtful that any major studio would have bankrolled something so incendiary. Also, a few of the supporting performances are a little broad, but that can be overlooked just because the film is so successful in so many other areas.
It is also testament to Devereaux's skill as a director with a good grip on the subgenre that the film works so well as a slasher movie, too. It is creepy, suspenseful and explicitly gory. Subways are a great place for a horror movie – as the classic British fright flick DEATH LINE (1972) showed. Recent entries, such as CREEP (2004) and the awful STAG NIGHT (2008) have more-or-less fluffed this seemingly easy setup, whereas END OF THE LINE milks its setting for all it’s worth.
It is a shame this thought provoking and intriguing film is not better known – it is one of my favourite slasher movies of the past five years. It also a shame that, perhaps, Devereaux cut too close to the bone, he has yet to make a film since. And that is a loss to the subgenre indeed.
female:5 / male:16
1) Female jumps in front of subway train
2) Male has throat cut
3) Female slashed to death
4) Female slashed to death
5) Male stabbed through heart
6) Male hit over the head with crowbar
7) Male found chopped up
8) Male found chopped up
9) Male nearly decapitated with sword
10) Male stabbed in stomach
11) Female stabbed in stomach
12) Female hit over head with hammer
13) Male hit in head with axe
14) Male whacked with hammer
15) Male stabbed in back
16) Male swallows pill
17) Male swallows pill
18) Male swallows pill
19) Male swallows pill
20) Female stabbed in stomach
21) Male stabbed in neck