Friday, September 28, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #2: END OF THE LINE (2007)

The Story: Strangers on a train encounter a group of end-of-the-world nuts determined to violently "save" the pagans from the impending apocalypse.

Expectations: I'm a sucker for horror movies set in subways.  Unfortunately there aren't many.  DEATH LINE (1973) comes to mind, and the opening of JACOB'S LADDER (1992).  And of course C.H.U.D. (1987).  In fact, when I read about this movie on Netflix, I thought it sounded like C.H.U.D. meets THE RAPTURE (1991).  And with that simple thought, I was sold.  I also sort of liked the idea that this film was written, produced, edited and directed by the same person (a Canadian named Maruice Deveraux).  Usually when one person exerts such strong creative control over a film, it means that he's got a real passion for his subject.  Either that or an extremely low budget...

Reaction: The film got my attention right away.  In the first five minutes, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but the picture had nice retro/filmic look (not unlike Ti West's THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) and it seemed clear that the editor at least knew how to pull off a jump scare.  It was all down hill after that.  (Maybe I should credit the sound designer for the effectiveness of the jump scares, rather than the editor.)  For me, the best moments in the film were at the very beginning and the very end, when the filmmaker assaults us with some genuinely surreal, monstrous imagery -- though some of it seems to be taken right out of JACOB'S LADDER.  The rest of the movie revolves around ho-hum characters with no behavioral logic and cliched religious freaks doing what cliched religious freaks do in movies like this.

The one moment that nearly reeled me in was a scene in which a solitary 12-year-old cult member confronts the survivors, knife in hand.  He is clearly terrified, and yet he believes that it is his duty to attack them, to do "God's will."  When one of the survivors violently repels the kid with a tire iron, the film briefly veers into morally ambiguous territory.   Our main hero yells, "He's only a kid!"  I found myself thinking "But kids can be suicide bombers too," and then started wondering how I would have responded in this same situation, under the same pressure.  Unfortunately there are very few moments in the film that prompt this kind of thoughtfulness.  I wanted to like this movie, I really did, but Netflix is 0 for 2 on my 30 days experiment.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: A scene in which the religious freaks carve a baby out of the dead mother's womb.  Sounds horrifying, right?  But the characters are so poorly drawn and their motivations so thin (if the cultists are trying to "save" people by killing them, wouldn't killing the mother be sufficient to kill the baby?) that it just made me disgusted with the filmmaker.  One of the most terrifyingly effective horror films I've ever seen, the French film INSIDE (2007), was about a pregnant mother being stalked by someone who wanted to physically take her unborn baby.  Watching that film, I empathized more with the victim, which made for a genuinely terrifying experience.  In END OF THE LINE, the filmmaker manages to turn the same atrocity into a cheap, lazy shock tactic.   I can handle bad taste, but what really gets my ire up is bad storytelling.


  1. I am always amused in movies like this that when religious people are portrayed they are typically extreme fanatics. From my limited amount of historical film horror viewing it seems that only lab scientists are seen to be more diabolical.

  2. K, I agree with your observation. The ultra-religious seldom get a fair shake in apocalyptic horror movies... I was surprised when I finally sat down recently and watched THE BOOK OF ELI.

  3. Jane Considine10/01/2012

    Wow. You are the only other person except and artist friend from Dallas that has seen THE RAPTURE. She was one of the coolest people I've ever met. We diverged wildly on our beliefs. Still, she was a very devout Christian and could engage in a reasonable conversation on that subject. Because of her artistic sensibilities, her funky vintage clothes and very surreal artwork, she always felt like she was never quite fit into her faith. Anyway, she recommended THE RAPTURE to me, and I have to say that is one of the most profound films I've ever seen on some seriously contentious subjects. We both agreed on that, opposite sides of the spectrum as we were.
    As an aside, I really disliked JACOB'S LADDER, except for the brilliant design of the Francis Bacon demons. Sigh, found it pretentious, especially at the end. Sigh, well, it was Adrian Lyne after all;)

  4. Thanks for writing, Jane. I love THE RAPTURE -- because the ending completely pulled the rug out from under me. I thought I was watching one kind of movie, and it turned out to be something completely different. That's admirable storytelling... and with a purpose. I'm a fan of the movie JACOB'S LADDER... but an even bigger fan of the script. Did you read the review I posted a few months ago?

  5. Jane Considine10/02/2012

    The ending of THE RAPTURE stunned me too. I had to sit and process for a bit after that. Also, the scene in the jail when the angels show up. Talk about hair standing on end.
    I hadn't read your review, I did read it late last night. You make a lot of good points about the script. The ending you describe to my mid would have been much more effective. More satisfying (for those of us whose brains work that way to a large degree) visually and certainly allegorically.
    I have issues with Adrian Lyne's approach to a story, way to slick and calculated IMHO, but that's a whole other set of comments.
    I also have major issues when endings are wrapped up BOOM! so quickly as to cause me to say "Is that all it was?" Max and I have gone round and round about this.
    In other words, I've just spent two hours more or less as the case may be watching a carefully plotted out story. Then I get to the part where in the case of JACOB'S LADDER - he's dead, all in his head, nothing more than some leftover electronic impulses. The way it was crafted, the metaphysical aspects were lost at that point. I think it was supposed to be a shocking twist. To me it was just a let down.

  6. Again, Jane, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Have you ever read "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche? For me, the real secrets of JACOB'S LADDER are in that book...

  7. I actually perceived the baby scene differently, it was their way to let them die all together as a family, since they did put the dead baby very very carefully and between its parents in the hands of the mother. if it was from just being evil, they would do it in a very non graceful way (as much as a scene like this can be graceful).