When the group arrives in Friar, few locals are interested in helping them find the elusive trail, but a woman named Liv (Laura Heisler) claims that she knows the way. She leads them for days over the river and through the proverbial woods, at which point their equipment starts going buggy. Their GPS says there in Guam, then Italy, then Australia, and even their compass becomes unreliable. Then they hear it, faint at first, then unmistakably clear: '30s-styled music, like an otherworldly phonograph echoing through the hills. The further they go, the more nerves fray and sanity is stretched to the limit, threatening to destroy them all before they find out what lies at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.
The End Result
The film is a slow-burner, for sure, its steady, restrained content allowing for the occasional shocking eruption of violence. However, rather than gradually building to a pulse-pounding payoff, the slow-burning flame peters out with a vague, frustrating whimper. In fact, it sets itself up for failure by positioning the most impactful -- startling and/or spooky -- moments in the first half of the film, causing the latter portion to drag noticeably.
It's a shame, because YellowBrickRoad has such great potential. First-time writers-directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton have crafted an intriguing setup that plays like both a campfire ghost story and a tragic social commentary: a neglected, post-Depression small town full of individuals with few options who seek a better life "down the road" and in doing so, meet with a horrific fate -- quite unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
The script, unfortunately, doesn't take full advantage of the premise, losing its momentum midway through and relying on uninteresting interpersonal dynamics and overly casual action. It's one thing to be matter-of-fact, but the movie's lack of urgency at times borders on the mundane.
The conclusion leaves things a bit open to interpretation, which some viewers might find provocative and others might dismiss as an underdeveloped script. I fall somewhere between the two; there are some interesting moments worth analyzing, but I think more polished writing could've given us more to chew on, more evidence to support our theories, while allowing the filmmakers to trim some of the narrative fat that slows down the film's pace.
- Acting: B- (Consistently solid across the board, with only a scene or two of overacting.)
- Direction: C- (Good use of sound, but the overly casual nature dulls its impact.)
- Script: C- (Great setup dragged down by vagueness and a lack of meaningful action.)
- Gore/Effects: C+ (A couple of gore scenes; some mediocre CGI.)
- Overall: C (A smart, admirable attempt to create atmosphere-driven horror that ultimately falls short of its promise.)
YellowBrickRoad is directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton and is rated R by the MPAA for violent content, language, some sexuality and drug material. Release date: June 1, 2011.