Wednesday, February 17, 2016

End of the Line (2007)

Warning: there’s some mildly spoileriffic discussion further on.

After some disquieting foreshadowing of things to come including hearing of the suicide of a former patient at her workplace, psychiatric nurse Karen (Ilona Elkin) is probably looking forward to a quiet, drunk night at home. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen, for a Christian cult with a huge following has decided that tonight’s the night of the Apocalypse. Their interpretation of scripture is rather avantgarde, for they believe that it is their duty to gruesomely murder anyone they can get their hands on to save their souls. They think the parts of humanity still alive when it’s time for the Anti-Christ’s arrival (coming-out?) are all eternally damned, and will possibly become the basis for the army of the devil.

It’s a theory at least. Karen soon finds the few passengers of the nearly empty subway she’s riding in who aren’t crazy cultists in the process of being violently saved. A small number of survivors has to make their way through the subway tunnels fighting the Christian hordes.

As far as I understand it, Maurice Devereaux’s End of the Line was financed by the director/writer/producer editor out of his own pocket, which explains some of the weaknesses of the film but also makes the surprising number of qualities the film does have even more impressive.

However, let’s start with the worst, and it’s not exactly an unexpected problem in indie horror – it is of course the acting. As is often the case in this part of the genre, the general acting approach is rather stiff and unnatural, with an emphasis on acting as a pretence an actor assumes instead of anything that feels more organic. I assume it has something to do with actors who don’t have much actual experience with screen acting working for directors who don’t have that much either and simply can’t afford going all Kubrick on their talents. Then there are the handful of actors who are just plain bad, most probably a problem nearly unavoidable when you’re getting a film on the ground with only the most basic means and no entourage of high class actors out to do you a favour; those guys prefer buddying it up with Steven Soderbergh. Fortunately, Devereaux does keep the worst of the bunch in the least important roles (not always a given in these films), and the central speaking roles are in the hands of actors who are only a bit awkward.

That’s the film’s main indie horror trademark, though. Sure, some of the attack scenes aren’t staged perfectly, and the gore’s more enthusiastic than effective, but End of the Line is missing the major hallmarks that make indie horror (where “indie” actually means self-financed or financed on a private level, not professionally made by small production companies – so homemade, if you will) often so frustrating: the editing’s professional, sensible and effective, there’s a decided lack of those scenes that just won’t stop for no good reason, no feeling of the film ever dragging its feet – everything we see is actually part of the story Devereaux is telling; the film’s staging is usually atmospheric, providing an actual sense of the subway train and the surrounding tunnels as a physical space, which the director uses for to good effect in various chases and assorted suspense scenes; and the script just happens to be tight and clever.

Indeed, the script just might be End of the Line’s strongest point, with deft characterisation, a sense for the creepy based on slight and then increasing exaggerations of the normal, and an ending that keeps the truth of the cultists’ beliefs ambiguous while still showing the monsters. This ambiguity is desperately necessary too, for otherwise, the film would actually be about a bunch of Christians singing a horrible hymn saving everyone’s souls by brutal violence, turning our actual protagonists into future agents of Satan, which would open up all kinds of problems, like pissing off every non-Evangelical in the audience. As the film handles it, there’s a breadcrumb trail of hints for a more natural – if somewhat bizarre - explanation of the film’s plot running through it that you might notice, or you might not, and that you might accept, or you might not, and the possibly supernatural things we witness only fits half to what the cultists state they belief; plus, they’re clearly crazy.

It’s quite wonderfully done, and film handles most everything else it attempts with the same thoughtfulness and through the same cleverness of solution, turning End of the Line into a much better film than anyone could expect of it.

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