Hillbilly horror is a subgenre that focuses on demonizing the working-class White person from the Southern US. The villains are defined by their inbreeding, racism, and lust for violence. They are territorial in nature. Their very existence subverts the famous hospitality that people from the South are synonymous with. This brand of horror stayed in prominence up until the late-2000s and then its popularity waned as terror generated by White people moved to more modern settings. But in this period, we got some amazingly gruesome films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Straw Dogs (1971), the whole Wrong Turn franchise, Wolf Creek (2005), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Deliverance (1972), Motel Hell (1980), and Cabin Fever (2002). And it seems like End of the Road (2022) is here to jump-start this subgenre back to life.
Directed by Millicent Shelton, and written by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery, End of the Road follows Brenda (Queen Latifah), her daughter Kelly (Mychala Lee), her son Cam (Shaun Dixon), and brother Reggie (Ludacris/Chris Bridges) as they move from LA to Houston. Why are they moving? Well, Brenda’s husband Jake (Michael Anthony) contracted cancer and their family went broke paying the bills for his medication until the day he died. So, they have to shift to a more affordable place. And that’s in Texas. Parallel to this road-trip plot, there’s another story that’s unfolding. This involves the henchmen of someone named Mr. Cross, i.e. Ruck (Jesse Luken) and Ochoa (Efrain Villa). They are supposed to deliver a giant bag of money to Cross. But Ruck (ahem!) double crosses Cross by killing Ochoa and taking the money. Brenda and Ruck’s paths collide when they end up in the same motel and chaos ensues.
End of the Road (2022) Movie Review: Queen Latifah Punches, Kicks, And Shoots To Get Her Family Through Hillbilly Hell
Unlike most hillbilly horror films, End of the Road’s protagonists are African-Americans. That changes the dynamic from poor White people terrorizing rich White people (which is rarely the case) to poor and rich White people terrorizing Black people (which is way closer to reality). The hostile altercations that Brenda and her family encounter touch upon the racism African-Americans face when they are simply traveling. Brenda’s non-violent approach to ensure that her family moves forward unharmed shows the kind of self-policing African-Americans have to do in a situation that doesn’t deserve that kind of restraint. The introduction of a large sum of dirty money (something that Brenda desperately needs to keep her family afloat) tests Brenda’s morality, and if she’s going to prioritize her ethics over acquiring some unearned cash. But the writing is such a tonal mess and the direction is so flimsy that none of these elements come together in a cohesive manner.
It seems like the character interactions between Brenda, Cam, Kelly, and Reggie were written on one file and the scenes with the hillbillies, Ruck, or Captain JD Hammers (Beau Bridges) were written on another file. And then they were just clubbed together without thinking if these two aspects complement each other in any way. The family-based interactions are light, humorous, and, for the lack of a better word, family-friendly. Everything else seems to have stepped out of a slasher or gangster film. If you have to see how it is done right, you simply have to look at Us (2019). The Wilsons are funny and vocal while the Tethered are campy and violent. But Peele walks that fine line so that you never feel that these two worlds are not on the same plane. Shelton never finds that line in her film and then tries to go for broke during the final act of the film.
Talking about the final act, Shelton, cinematographer Ed Wu, and production designer Lucio Seixas decide to bathe it in purple lighting; as if it’s taking place on some alien planet or the planet is being taken over by cosmic energy. Spoiler alert: nothing of that sort is happening. Look, I am all for unmotivated lighting. But the color should have a natural hue. Not purple! For example, in a lot of horror films in the 80s and even recently in Censor (2021), directors and their DOPs did place large sources of light that won’t be there naturally, to illuminate the location and to make the scene dynamic. However, they are always white or light blue or light green, and at the cost of repeating myself, not purple! You can say that End of the Road tries to ease us into it as we see a little neon blue lighting when Brenda comes across some Neo Nazis. Yet, the jump to purple is perplexing.
The performances from the central cast are good. Queen Latifah gets to do the most. She absolutely nails her dramatic scenes. But her action-heavy moments required so much more work. In fact, that’s the one thing that could’ve brought the family-friendly, road-trip half of the movie and the gangster-slasher, heist half of the film together. Well, what’s done is done and we can’t change a thing about it. Moving on, Ludacris is charismatic and always delivers his lines with the utmost conviction. Mychala Lee and Shaun Dixon are incredibly talented kids and they sell the hell out of their scenes. These three, along with Queen Latifah, really feel like a family and not just a bunch of actors pretending to be one. Although Beau Bridges isn’t on-screen a lot until the third act, he gets to have some fun. The same can be said about Frances Lee McCain. Everyone else in the supporting cast is fine. No bad apples here.
End of the Road (2022) Ending, Explained:
Who Is Mr. Cross? What Do Brenda And Reggie Do With The Money?
Here’s a brief summary of the things that happen before the final act. Brenda and her family land at the Sunset Motel. So does Ruck, with a bagful of money, after double-crossing Mr. Cross. Brenda and co. hear some ruckus in Ruck’s room which concludes with a gunshot. They go in there to check and see that Ruck has been shot. While Brenda tries to save him, Reggie finds the bag full of cash. Ruck dies. They call in the police. They give their statements and resume their journey. Captain Hammers arrives on the scene and asks Brenda to come back for some questioning. Brenda says she isn’t doing that because she has told the police everything. Then an unknown person, who is speaking through a voice modulator, calls Brenda to return the money. That’s when Reggie reveals that he has stolen the bag full of cash to help Brenda with her financial problems.
As soon as Brenda realizes that this money belongs to a gangster called Mr. Cross, she stashes the money in another motel and tells Cross to get it from there. But a member of a Neo-Nazi gang steals it and runs away. Since Cross doesn’t get the money, he kidnaps Cam and tells Brenda to get the bag back. Fearing the worst, Brenda goes after the Nazis, breaks some bones, shoots some bullets, and succeeds in retrieving the moolah. Meanwhile, Hammers comes across Kelly and Reggie and takes them to his house under the guise of protecting them. He innocently introduces them to his wife Val (Frances Lee McCain). However, then he walks over to his car’s trunk and reveals a tied-up Cam in there. Yes, Hammers is actually Mr. Cross. He is the one who killed Ruck. That money is his. And he wants Brenda to come to him with it or else he’ll start killing her family.
After getting to the location of Hammers/Cross’s house, Brenda starts to make her way to that place. Reggie, Kelly, and Cam try to escape through a window in the basement where they are being held, hostage. But Cross’s dog prevents them from doing so. That’s why they put a bucket of bleach (because it’s a basement and the Crosses have apparently kept a bottle of bleach there) on the panel atop the stairs. Then they trick Cross to stand right beneath it. Cam dunks the bleach on Cross, which causes his eyes to burn, and they escape the basement. Val puts up a strong fight but Reggie, Kelly, and Cam manage to get her into the basement and lock the door from the outside. Brenda arrives to rescue them. Reggie suggests that they shouldn’t return the money and just run away with it. Brenda refuses that suggestion. She drops it on the road, gets everyone into the car, and drives away.
Cross breaks through the door. After re-acquiring the money, Val and he go after Brenda and her family. This leads to a pretty shoddy car chase sequence. Brenda manages to trick Val and Cross into driving their car into a tree, which kills both of them; thereby allowing our heroes to drive away scarred (mentally and physically) but alive. The following day, while having breakfast, Reggie reveals that he has actually taken some of the money from Cross’s bag and intends to keep it. Brenda’s moral compass starts acting up again and she says that they must give it back. Reggie, Kelly, and Cam make an obvious observation by saying that there’s nobody left to give the money back to. Brenda concedes her point and considers using the money to deal with their financial problems.