Netflix’s ‘End of the Road’ is a suspenseful social thriller that finds strength in the family

If you thought Hollywood had worn out its tires for disturbing road thrillers, End of the road proves that there is still gas in the tank.

From director Millicent Shelton, Netflix’s End of the road begins as an emotionally charged road trip that takes a sharp right turn in fear. Recently widowed Brenda (Queen Latifah), her brother Reggie (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), her teenage daughter Kelly (Mychala Lee) and her young son Cam (Shaun Dixon) drive from Los Angeles to Texas, fraught with grief and financial troubles. However, Shelton switches to thriller territory almost immediately when the Southwest family is confronted with violent racism. Once they witness a murder and become involved with an anonymous drug lord, things get damn terrifying for Brenda and her family.

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Shelton’s expertise as a TV and music video director is reflected in every moment of End of the road, with nearly every scene outfitted with an uncomfortably shallow depth of field and either hyper-saturated or neon-lit in a surreal, awkward intensity that matches how unsafe the family is in the desert. The brighter the magentas and oranges get, the more dangerous and confused things get. And they’re confused when Brenda, Reggie, Kelly and Cam encounter multiple scenarios in which they’re chased, imprisoned or forced to fight for their lives against terrifyingly racist, violent people whose hateful words and brutal intent unchecked a seemingly lawless landscape. “It’s a different world here,” Reggie says, and he’s right.

Shelton’s use of lighting is very disturbing.
Credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix

Road thrillers can be an easy-to-maneuver genre to explore broader themes such as family, social oppression, and a sense of belonging; take Michael Pearce’s meeting for example, who uses the genre to explore fatherhood and mental health. And while this movie’s story may not reinvent the wheel – innocent road trippers see something they shouldn’t, take something they shouldn’t, get a “we know what you did” call and must find a mysterious killer. avoiding in an isolated environment — End of the road has more to say. Turning it into a social thriller, Shelton moves the film’s black protagonists through an unforgiving hellscape of white supremacy, while Brenda just wants to drive her family to their new home in Houston, Texas and make a fresh start.

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Shelton balances this ever-present level of threat with classic family road trip markers – a silly pillow fight at a roadside motel, kids having to have a real conversation in the car instead of on their phones, a visit to a roadside amusement park in wild West . And it’s within these scenes that Shelton gives her four main actors the chance to explore themes of family, strength and resilience amid playful banter and heartfelt burns, leaving room for the film’s protagonists to bond as a family. in the midst of all this terror.

Four people stand in a row in the desert at night, one with a torch.

Come on, they just wanted to go to Houston.
Credit: Ursula Coyote/Netflix

Queen Latifah skillfully brings understated realism and power to Brenda, making her alternating moments of panic and power truly real as she tries to maintain a sense of calm control to get through extremely troubling situations alive. (Without spoiling anything, just know that the nest of neo-Nazis Brenda do” drives in not end with the upper hand.) Brenda is absolutely exhausted by the film’s final moments, and she should be.

Bridges balances his on-screen sister’s propensity for responsibility with seizing the moment Cool Uncle energy, and together they imbue the siblings with believably oscillating chemistry; one minute they are capturing great truths, the next they are standing in a row. Lee and Dixon bring humor and maturity to their fully realized characters, as children who had to grow up earlier than they might otherwise because of grief, but whose family keeps them in sight of what’s important – and teaches them how to get through life. navigating in the face of unyielding racism. Most of all, the four consistently do everything they can to keep each other safe, supported, and together during all of this.

in the end, End of the road pretty much follows the road movie rulebook, but the space Shelton makes for her talented cast to create poignant moments of family strength and togetherness is undeniably moving, and the pervasive sense of undisputed white supremacy proves a timely villain. Several scenes are beyond intense and shocking, with the director not letting the audience rest for a minute longer than her on-screen protagonists.

Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it… It’s certainly quite a ride. Damn.

End of the road(opens in a new tab) is now streaming on Netflix.