PLOT: In 1940, inhabitants of a small town known as Friar mysteriously disappeared after walking a local trail known as the Yellow Brick Road. Many were never found, most were discovered frozen and slaughtered to death. Now, 70 years later, a group of eight look to uncover the mystery by walking the road themselves. Odd happenings, inexplicable revelations and ghastly bouts of butchery ensue.
REVIEW: Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland's debut feature YELLOWBRICKROAD isn't so much a cerebral horror film as much as it a surreal, sensory one. By that I mean the film is almost an avant-garde horror flick, one bereft of overwrought exposition and conventional plotting. It's a very strange movie, the greatest strength of which I believe comes from the way it makes you feel. For me, the film made me feel as bewildered as the characters I was watching, as if I were a surrogate extension of the pack. I often felt lost, at times confused, most times uneasy...and yes, a little freaked out. If that was the intention of Mitton and Holland, than I approve. If it wasn't the intention, I'm not sure many of you will enjoy traveling down the YELLOWBRICKROAD.
The film opens with a pre-title exhortation about the townspeople of Friar, NH, who one day partook in a mass exodus up a northern trail known as the yellow brick road. As we're warned of the harrowing consequences, we soon meet Teddy and his wife Melissa, photographers who are intent on writing a book to expose the Friar mysteries. The assemble a crew; a couple of map makers, a psychiatrist, an intern and a local movie theater attendant. Decked to the nines with camping gear, they octet sets out on the trail to vet and suss what the hell really happened 70 years ago. As they proceed on the trail, inexplicable phenomena take hold. A GPS tracker is rendered inaccurate; loud, big-band jazz music begins to play far off in the distance; primal urges and hallucinatory psychosis bubble up to the forefront. In short, awfully weird shit starts to happen.
For a movie made for only $500,000, YELLOWBRICKROAD is quite an achievement. Instead of wooing us with gaudy technical marvels, Holland and Mitton skirt their budgetary constraints by eliciting an emotionally visceral response to the material. As we're thrust into this eerie expedition, a slow burning erosion of our senses make us feel like we're growing as gradually insane as the characters. Logic becomes academic at a certain point, and we're sort of left in the middle of a trippy and psychedelic journey of spiritual death. In that regard, the film plays a 70s psychological thriller, where it's far more about the mood, atmosphere and characterizations than it is about formula, plot points and graphic violence. In fact, save for a scene or two, YELLOWBRICKROAD is virtually a bloodless film. It's horror derives from the dismay and discomfort that slowly mounts over the course of 100 minutes.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with YELLOWBRICKROAD is, like most indie horror flicks, the ending. Instead of a tidy resolution or any kind of satisfactory closure, the film ends far too abruptly to classify as a true great. Now, normally I have no qualms with ambiguous endings or even downer finales, but when the two preceding acts offer very little explanation as to why these off-the-wall phenomena occur, it wouldn't hurt to spell things out a bit by the time the final credits roll. Don't get me wrong, I liked how the movie made me feel. Or rather, I liked how the movie was able to make me feel shitty...that it could evoke such a strange reaction in me. But as far as a tautly woven narrative goes, YELLOWBRICKROAD's conclusion felt sort of rushed. Lazy even. Which is a shame since the first hour of the movie or so did a great job of keeping me invested. But since we never find out why the original townspeople walked the trail in the first place, or even why the trail has a baleful Bermuda Triangle vibe to begin with, not to mention a few loose ends in terms of character arcs and storylines...YELLOWBRICKROAD comes up a bit short.
Summarily, YELLOWBRICKROAD shows tremendous promise early on. It harks back to the halcyon days of slow-burning 70s psychological horror, doing so without the bludgeoning exposition most low-budget horror flicks are fraught with. It shows the story, rather than tells it...which creates an unsettling emotional response for the first hour or so. However, that very dearth of explication comes back to detract from the films conclusion. By the last reel, we actually want answers. Not many, and not spoon fed to us, but a clearer, more powerful denouement would have lent to a more satisfactory ending. At least for me. That said, I admired the ingenuity of Holland and Mitton, especially given the limited resources they had at their disposal. The mood, tone and atmosphere are some of the films greatest strengths, while the opacity and muddled storylines were the downfall. All in all, I'd give YELLOWBRICKROAD a cautious walk.