[Cinepocalypse 2019] Review: Whodunit Meets Horror in PUNTA MUERTO (DEAD END); VILLAINS Delivers Comedy and Cruelty

Fans of slasher and giallo films, film noir, and classic murder mysteries should find plenty to enjoy in Argentinian offering Punta Muerto (Dead End). This black-and-white thriller offers delicious, devilish delights galore in its story of famous mystery author Luis Peñafiel (Osmar Nuñéz), who purports to finally reveal the secret of the Locked Door Enigma — in which a murder takes place in a room that seemingly has no means of escape for the culprit — in his latest novel; sharp-tongued critic Dupuin (Luciano Cáceres), who has it out for Peñafiel; and Lupus (Rodrigo Guiaro Diáz), an up-and-coming writer dying to know the answer to the Locked Door Enigma. Staying at the same hotel for a writers conference, Dupuin winds up murdered in the style of the Locked Door Enigma, and Peñafiel wakes up with blood on his hands and wearing the signature cape of his murderous fictional villain The Wraith.

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As the two authors work desperately to figure out the answer to this now real-life mystery, the police close in and suspense mounts. The cast members, both lead and supporting, all give terrific performances that are heightened to match the style of this homage to 1940s noir and mystery movies. Cáceres is obviously having a blast playing the heavily made-up critic, stopping just short of moustache twirling in his villainous turn, and Nuñéz is a lot of fun as the writer trapped in his own mystery. The score by Luciano Onetti is fittingly histrionic, Alejandro Giulani’s sumptuous black-and-white cinematography is sublime, and writer/director Daniel de la Vega creates a highly stylized feature that is gorgeous to behold. Bodies in wine barrels, a pearl-adorned black cat that winds up wherever danger lurks, messages written in braille as a murder victim dies, and a stylishly dressed masked killer are just a few of the aesthetic treasures on display. The film’s climax may fall short compared with what comes before it, but Punta Muerto (Dead End) is, overall, a sublime slice of horror noir. 

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Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) are outlaw lovers on the run who find their recent lucky streak of robberies coming to a fast end when they break into the house owned by George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgewick) and discover a young girl chained up in the basement before the couple returns home. The less-than-bright criminals find themselves squaring off for their lives against calculating, menacing George and flat-out-nuts Gloria. Cowriters/codirectors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen have crafted a black comedy thriller that serves up plenty of laughs and suspense, along with a fair amount of viciousness and bloodshed. The big draw here is the fine display of acting from the four lead performers. Skarsgård and Monroe give winning turns as an affectionate young couple with big dreams of starting their own seashell-selling business on sunny Florida seashores by committing crimes, and Donovan and Sedgewick are superb as a fractured couple who have also gone about trying to follow their dreams the wrong way. The pacing is swift and enjoyable, the laughs are plentiful, and the nail-biting setpieces deliver big time. 

Both Punta Muerto (Dead End) and Villains screened at Cinepocalypse Film Fest, which ran June 13–20 in Chicago, Illinois. 

Joseph Perry