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End of the Line

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/04/07 15:08:42

"Next stop... Death!"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Maurice Deveraux is a perennial favorite at this festival, a local filmmaker who has always had more ambition than his low-budget slasher flicks have let on. This movie could be his ticket to bigger things; it's another horror movie, sure, but it's a smart, well-made one.

Karen (Ilona Elkin) is a nurse in a Montreal psych ward who is feeling a little bit unsteady herself; a troubled patient (Christine Lan) who had visions of demons attacking has just killed herself by jumping onto the subway tracks. When she heads home for the evening, she encounters a couple of men on the subway platform: Patrick (Robin Wilcock), who comes on too strong, and Mike (Nicolas Wright) fakes being an old friend to keep him at bay. That's not the worst trouble they'll face; also on the train are a bunch of well-dressed, clean-scrubbed types who have just been to an evangelist's rally. Midway through the ride home, those God-fearing people will get a call on their pagers: The apocalypse is coming tonight, so save as many people as you can.

And by "save", Reverend Hope (David L. McCallum) means "stab them to death with your cross-shaped daggers before the demons I say are coming get to them".

Devereaux could have gone the route of having the folks with the knives be this oncoming wave of effectively brainwashed zealots, but he does something a little more interesting: He lets them have doubts, for various reasons. Some get squeamish about killing people. Some are sociopaths using this as an excuse to rape and kill. Teenage Sarah (Nina Fillis) makes out with her boyfriend John (Tim Rozon) and has big-time doubts about the whole program. One guy is only a member of the sect because his wife was. What doing this does, aside from provide some exposition to the band of survivors trying to make their way to the surface, is make the marauders a little scarier. In part, it's because it means these people have all chosen to do something horrific individually, which is a scarier prospect than one central puppet master. But in part, it's because the people who have decided to switch sides aren't sure, while the others remain resolute - maybe these guys really do know something.

In some ways, what's going on with the killers is almost more interesting than what's going on with the would-be survivors, although they're a likable group. Ilona Elkin and Nicolas Wright are nice as the pair that don't get time to do more than hit it off; Rozon and Fillis are another nice pair, the good-natured horndog guy and the good girl realizing sex isn't all bad. Neil Napier plays the guy who emerges as the leader of the group, being older and seeming like a good fighter, although he's careful not to overpower the ensemble. Also kicking some ass is Emily Shelton, who gets to emerge from being sexually assaulted in the first minutes of the attack to being the chick with the axe that you really don't want to mess with, because she's still pretty pissed off. Less savory are Robin Wilcock, who makes Patrick a thoroughly slimy presence before and after the knives come out, and Joan McBride is a perfect combination of true believer and friendly middle-aged librarian type. The cast is mostly from the stage, but they appear to feel right at home in front of a camera.

After the initial outburst, the people we're following are far more likely to get wounded than killed right off, which not only tends to put the characters in a bind but lets the filmmakers show off some pretty good blood-and-gut effects. When the survivors and the killers meet up, the fights tend to be bloody and nasty as the attackers' ceremonial daggers and the non-believers' fire axes find their marks. Devereaux also throws in a scene or two that should disturb even the experienced horror fan (the test of faith between the guy and his wife is, just, eww...), and he works in some CGI monsters that are probably figments of Karen's imagination, but which give the apocalypse story a little credibility, or at least make it sound nastier.

Most of the film takes place underground, and makes good use of the subway-tunnel setting: It's a dark, claustrophobic labyrinth where cell phones don't work. It helps with budget and credibility a little, too, since we've got no trouble believing that our group can be well and truly screwed down there, and we don't have to think too hard about the details of what's being implied as happening above ground. The finale is delightfully ambiguous.

"End of the Line" still has some rough edges on it, but it probably wouldn't do for a horror movie to be TOO clean. It certainly demonstrates that Maurice Devereaux is ready to become more than just a local favorite.

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