Montréal Dead End is an adventurous anthology feature that is steeped in the geography of one of Canada’s most gorgeous cities. The self-proclaimed “no budget” horror film created by 18 different directors takes several different approaches that helps to set it apart from its anthology counterparts and while, like its peers, it’s not always successful, it’s worth checking out just to see how all of the pieces play together.
It’s traditional for anthologies to use a bracket storyline to link the various entries together or provide some kind of thematic through-line. Montréal Dead End opts more for the latter approach, but intriguingly chooses to intersperse the ongoing storyline throughout the film. The film’s opening introduces a noxious green gas escaping from a sinkhole in the middle of the city and the remainder of the film explores the endless stream of terrors and monsters that arise in the mist’s wake (zombies and cannibals, mostly) in different parts of the city.
As the film progresses, it is revealed that the gas is tied to a forthcoming apocalypse that can only be prevented if the Guardian and the Archivist (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) read from a powerful spell book within 24 hours of the gate opening. These segments tend to feature encounters between the Guardian and an agent of darkness with their own agenda (the Baron of Montréal North or the Priestess of Outremont, for example), but they’re rather repetitive and, most disappointingly, the resolution of the bracket storyline (ie: the climax of the film) occurs far too quickly and is resolved in an underwhelming fashion.
The other issue with Montréal Dead End is that the quality of the shorts vary dramatically. Because there are so many filmmakers involved, many of the 15 segments are quite short; at times this proves to be a minor blessing, but more often than not the need to cram in more ends up cutting off a promising story. Not unlike The ABCs of Death, the sheer number of shorts overwhelms the proceedings, so much so that they bleed together and become difficult to distinguish from one another. It also makes the 87 minute long film feel much longer than it actually is.
Thankfully there are several hidden gems. Many of the shorts that lean into comedy fare best (possibly because it’s easier to deliver a punchline than develop a mood, build tension and pay off a scare in the same amount of time). Among the strongest shorts are:
- The Marché Atwater: Tom prepares for a date by cooking dinner, but when his produce from the market begins attacking him, the kitchen becomes a battlefield.
- Villeroy: A lonely girl discovers a mutated man in a back alley, and befriends with candy. An unlikely friendship quickly arises in this cute, but too brief segment.
- Mile-End: An interracial lesbian zombie couple barters body parts with a local grocer in anticipation of a romantic/icky dinner date.
- Parc Lafontaine: I’m 50/50 on this short, which literally mines the exchange of bodily fluids for comedy. What starts off humourously with a couple who swap bodies after they kiss becomes both vulgar and stupid when a semen joke results in penises on a face. Proof that a good concept can go very badly, very quickly.
- Beaubien: My favourite of all of the segments, this English & French comedy short focuses on a cutesy couple who ignorantly miss all of the signs that everyone around them has disappeared or died (and reanimated). An obvious, but still very funny bit finds them peering into a cafe window, repeatedly avoiding a malicious attempt to murder them with a pair of flower pots from above. Throw in a Celine Dion joke and this segment is a winner.
Several of the more horrific shorts are also enjoyable, but too many lean on familiar trappings: cannibals and/or zombies. One nearly silent short set in the The Village starts out promisingly: a pair of girlfriends fight about one’s wandering eye in a gorgeous purple neon-lit dance club. A strange man follows them home and lurks outside of the window as the envious philanderer first resists, then initiates sex, culminating in a physical attack. The association of carnal longing and food is subtle and effective, but the short has barely begun before it’s over. Contrast this with a meandering silent short about an old woman who is recruited for a bath by a group of feral children in the woods that is interminable.
Clearly not all of shorts are made equal.
Montréal Dead End plays the Blood in the Snow Film Festival Sat, Nov 24 at 9:30pm EST.