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Review: Dead End (2017) & Dead End II (2019)

Recently, I was approached by Bryan Larkin to watch and review a couple short action films he was involved in, Dead End and Dead End II. I’ll be honest, I was a bit skeptical. See, I have been approached in the past to review a few short, no budget, action films, and, I was never very impressed. I didn’t feel like it was necessary, or fair, to write negatively about them, considering the lack of resources and lack of budget they had to work with, so I chose not to review them.

These two movies were different though. The talent involved lent it credibility that got me excited. First, the star, Bryan Larkin, has been involved in action movies since 2002, most recently in Angel Has Fallen (2019) and in a fantastic low budget actioner called I Am Vengeance (2018), starring Stu Bennett (WWE fans would know him as Wade Barrett. In I Am Vengeance, Larkin has a very cool fight scene with Bennett that is easily the best part of the movie. He even acted alongside the legend, Donnie Yen, in Chasing the Dragon (2017).

Secondly, the director, Carter Ferguson, has also been involved in the genre for years, primarily as a fight director/coordinator, with over 600 credits to his name. He also has experience directing, with his debut film, Fast Romance, winning the Favourite Scottish Film Award from the BAFTA Awards, Scotland.

I went into these short films knowing that the people involved, at the very least, understood the genre and, more importantly, cared about it. Because of their years of experience in multiple facets of filmmaking, I anticipated a much better product than the typical short film. Even with that mindset, my expectations were far surpassed. Let’s dig into them!

Dead End (2017)

Dead End follows two hitmen. The first, credited only as The Contractor (Bryan Larkin), is dealing with the loss of a loved one in a tragic event in Hong Kong one year ago. The second, credited as Young Gun (Julian Gaertner), is relatively new to the job. The Contractor is sent to meet Young Gun in Hong Kong, where they are to work together to complete a job. Things don’t go as planned as the job isn’t what it seems and The Contractor’s past forces Young Gun to reconsider his loyalties.

Bryan Larkin as The Contractor

The first thing that stood out to me about Dead End was how great it looked. The cinematography, the lighting, the camerawork, everything involved in the visuals was just as good as, if not better than, many of the big budget studio movies I’ve seen recently. A lot of the 19 minute runtime takes place at night, making the fantastic lighting and visuals even more impressive. The fact that they shot this film in 11 days, in 4 locations (Hong Kong, Beijing, London, and Los Angeles), with little to no budget, and were still able to make it look this great is astounding to me.

The characters, and the acting that brought those characters to life, also impressed me. The main actor, Bryan Larkin, also wrote the script and I was pleasantly surprised by the direction he took the story and the characters. I was expecting a 20 minute action showcase, but instead, I was treated to a character driven story that used every bit of the short run time to fully flesh out the two hitmen, making them feel like real humans and really making me care for them.

I really enjoyed this first short, and I was really impressed with every aspect of it. I figured the film would be well made, considering the experience of the people involved, but even so, I was expecting the lack of budget to be evident when I watched it. That wasn’t the case, as this film looked amazing, was well written, and the acting was very good. Here’s the catch though. This first one far surpassed my expectations, but now the bar was raised. I knew what these guys were capable of now, going into Dead End II. Could they meet those new expectations?

Dead End II (2019)

Dead End II follows the same two hitmen, The Contractor and Young Gun (Bryan Larkin and Julian Gaertner, returning from Dead End). This time around they are in Hong Kong, working together to bring down a gang involved in extortion and human trafficking. Aside from the hitmen, we follow the story of The Girl, who is affected by the gangs dealings and whose story becomes intertwined with that of the hitmen.

This time around, Larkin is a triple threat; returning as the star, directing (with Carter Ferguson returning from Dead End as co-director), and once again writing the script. That extra duty as director didn’t hurt his output in the least as, just like with the first one, I thought the writing was exceptional in this sequel.

Like most sequels, because the first movie spent the time to establish the characters, this one can focus more on the action and a faster paced narrative. That isn’t to say that the characters aren’t still fleshed out and well written, they are just examined in a different way than the first. Whereas the first one was more introspective and examined how the job affected them from a moral standpoint, Dead End II is focused more so on their mission and their mindset as it applies to their day-to-day life and how they see the world.

My favorite aspect of the writing was The Girl (Chloe Chan). Her character serves a couple purposes in the film. First, she acts as the embodiment of the theme the film explores; being trapped within the confines dictated by forces beyond our control such as living circumstances, those in power, and even destiny if such a thing exists. She also acts as a sort of moral anchor for our protagonists, The Contractor and Young Gun. We see that they continue to struggle with the morality of their job, but the girl acts a justification. Because their actions directly and indirectly result in The Girl escaping her bleak life, they see, and we the audience see, that their job helps people.

Aside from accomplishing those things from a thematic, storytelling perspective, The Girl is also just a great character. She doesn’t feel shoehorned into the story but, instead, feels like a real and natural part of the harsh world the hitmen operate in. She was well written, well acted, and incredibly interesting to watch.

The action was significantly ramped up compared to the first but, with this one being 6 minutes longer, they were able to do so without sacrificing the focus on the story and the continued development of the characters. Most of the action comes from an extended chase scene, which ends in some fights. The whole chase is very impressive, as it takes place among apartment building walkways, crowded markets, and a labyrinth of cramped back alleys. Besides that, the chase actually consists of three chases; each hitman chasing a different target, and The Girl following behind them all.

Julian Gaertner, as Young Gun, chasing the target

This sequence, and the camerawork involved, had to have been painstakingly planned out because, despite the amount of characters involved and the different locations involved, the layout of the chase is very clearly defined and we are always aware of where each person is in relation to everybody else. This was especially important because many of the buildings and alleys involved looked very similar, so it would have been very easy for me to get confused amidst the chaos of the scene.

Overall, even accounting for my raised expectations, Dead End II was beyond impressive. Larkin, in particular, deserves credit for taking on multiple tasks and not only nailing them, but building and improving on them from the first. The writing is fantastic and achieves a great amount in its short run time, the acting is fantastic across the board (a rare feat in films like this, trust me), the action is full of energy, and the camerawork and visuals are spectacular. I really admire what this group was able to accomplish with their limited resources and I would love to see what they would accomplish if they were even given a mediocre budget to film a feature length film.

Larkin setting up a scene

I would highly recommend that everybody, especially fans of action, watch these short films. Unfortunately, since they are making their rounds in film festivals at the time of this writing, they aren’t allowed to make them available quite yet. If you want more information, though, I’ll include the trailers below and make sure to check out their social media.

Dead End Series:

Bryan Larkin:

TWITTER: @BryanLarkin

INSTAGRAM: @bryanlarkin

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