New Horror Releases: End Trip (2018) - Reviewed

Since the mid '90s, when thrillers with huge, shocking twists were knocking out audiences both in the multiplexes (The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club) and art houses (Memento, Donnie Darko, Mullholland Drive), filmmakers have been striving to leave viewers gasping and slack-jawed wondering what the hell just happened. To join the ranks of the aforementioned films is not easy; the twist has to be seamlessly plotted, the filmmaker has to give the audience just enough so that they could figure everything out on their own, but then present all that information in such a way that most viewers wouldn't. Twists are a slippery slope; one false move and the entire film can collapse in on itself and lose the audience. In his first major feature release, 2018's End Trip, Aaron Jay Rome proves that he is worthy to join the ranks of successful filmmakers before him with a taut, engaging, complex entry that leaves audiences piecing everything together long after the film has ended.

Rome, pulling triple duty as not only the writer and director, but also the film's lead, nails it across the board. The film follows Rome's Brandon, a ride share driver, on his nightly adventure, taking fares and making small talk with strangers. In a parallel timeline, with scenes interspersed among Brandon's Uber-esque adventures, the audience is treated to the strange events unfolding at Brandon's home, where his fiancée Stef (played with dazzling energy and ferocity by Ashley Lenz) has woken up not recognizing, and therefore, terrified of, her future husband. The cast is rounded out when Brandon picks up his last fare of the evening, Judd (a smarmy but somehow charming Dean J. West) and the two become fast friends. To go any further in plot details would be a disservice to the nearly masterful piece of filmmaking that follows; this is a film you should know as little as possible about upon viewing.

With at least fifty percent of the film taking place in a moving vehicle, the camera angles and use of light are extremely important to the success of the film. Cinematographer Mickey Gaidos and director of photography David S. White elevate the film and keep the viewer's attention with excellent shots of the city and surroundings, paired with intimate closeups of the film's stars. The camerawork highlights the electric chemistry between Rome and West, and when it becomes time to reveal all, shots that looked like one thing the first time they're seen transform into something else when more is revealed.

The mark of a truly great twist may be the desire of the audience to watch the film again, to pick apart and find all of the little things that were missed the first time, to slap themselves in the forehead and wonder why they didn't put it all together before, and that is where this film leaves you. End Trip is acted with pitch perfect precision, beautifully shot, and gallops along at a pace that will leave you breathless and needing to watch it again. 

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-Josie Stec