Maurice Devereaux’s last film was ‘Slashers’, a fun if somewhat rough round the edges Japanese Game Show satire, which had enough courageous invention, intelligence & OTT splatter to become something of a late-night cult fave, despite its unevenness. It’s gratifying to report that not only does ‘End of the Line’ build on the promise of that film, but it’s also a real step forward & one of the most bloodily entertaining breakout indie horrors of recent years.
Karen (Ilona Elkin) is a young nurse who’s on her way home after a tough shift, when she discovers that a patient – who she thought shouldn’t be discharged – has just thrown herself under an underground train. Heading down into the subway, she receives unwelcome attention from a rather creepy & sleazy guy on the platform but is rescued by nice guy Mike (Nicholas Wright). The train is almost deserted, & as it heads down towards the end of the line, it suddenly lurches to a halt in the middle of the tunnel. On board are a group of members of the Church of Hope whose beepers all suddenly go off. Rising from their seats, they pull large crucifixes from their bags, & swiftly reveal them to be lethal daggers. It seems they think that the apocalypse is upon them, & they must kill all non-believers in order to set their souls free.
Although it does not replicate the ambitious single-shot technique of ‘Slashers’, its single-night time-frame & dark underground setting allows for a merciless build-up of claustrophobic tension that is wonderfully evocative of classic horrors of the 70s & 80s. An obvious reference point is ‘Death Line’, & it makes for a rather more satisfying “update” of subway terrors than Christopher Smith’s recent ‘Creep’. With its flowing steadicam work & dingy brown subterranean colour scheme courtesy of DoP Denis-Noel Mostert the overriding mood is a deliciously evocative one, yet it also feels fresh enough to not seem redundant. The film is aided somewhat by its grand score by composer Martin Gauthier.
Like ‘Slashers’, the film has a slightly larger than life feel that prevents it from becoming truly terrifying, & although it is rather more serious in tone than its predecessor it is still loaded with subversive black humour. Whereas ‘Slashers’ suffered from some embarrassingly amateurish acting, the performances are a key area where ‘End of the Line’ is a step forward for Devereaux. Although there are still a couple of moments of clumsy performances, the film features a couple of stand-out turns, particularly Joan McBride as the pious leader of the Church group, & Ilona Elkin as Karen – notably in her expertly-played final scenes.
The central premise is a delightfully subversive one, & whilst religious extremists are perhaps an obvious target for satire, Devereaux doesn’t let them become cartoon villains or zombie-like automatons. Key are those church members who are slightly wavering in faith (not to mention the impressionable teenage contingent), which leads to some delicious scenes of difficult choices for the protagonists. Most notable is the sequence involving a heavily pregnant church member, & her somewhat sceptical husband. Pleasingly, Devereaux shows that he has the guts to follow through on his set-ups, & there’s never the feeling of a film whimping out. Best of all is the stunning denouement – apparently Devereaux came up with the ending first & then worked back from it, & this shows to good effect.
But, I hear you asking, is it violent & gory? Hell yes, is the answer! Although sometimes the effects are obviously effects, this scarcely detracts from their appeal, which is heightened by virtue of the fact that this is a film that shuns CG. The film is a real treat for fans of old-school gory extremes, & it edges more towards Peter Jackson-esque splatter than the ferocious intensity of Alexandre Aja. In addition to the bloody mayhem, there are a couple of really cool & creepy monster effects, some unsettling moments of eerie tension, & well-timed jump shocks – including one early mini-classic.
A film that is aimed straight at horror fans rather than multiplex block-busting, ‘End of the Line’ is a breathlessly action-packed treat. Filled with black humour & crowd-pleasing gore, it’s something of an instant classic late-night pulp romp, & boasting more brains & balls than most studio fare, its status as a fan favourite in years to come seems assured.