Well worth a look, recommended.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
FEATURING: Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Laura Heisler, Lee Wilkof, Clark Freeman, Michael Laurino, Alex Draper, Tara Giordano, Sam Elmore
TAGS: mystery, puzzler, occult
PLOT: A small entourage of pseudo-anthropologists encounters disorientation, bedlam and horror on the trail of an historic mass disappearance.
COMMENTS: A fortnight ago I discussed the independent puzzler, Resolution (2012). It's plodding and pensive, but delivers on its clever high concept with a disturbing climax. Akin to Resolution, the glibly cyber-entitled Yellowbrickroad follows a like formula and offers a similar experience. It's enigmatic, and saves all of its open-ended answers for its lurid finale. While Yellowbrickroad has fewer puzzler paradoxes than Resolution, first time feature film writer-directors, Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton do a pretty good job considering their half mil micro-budget, incorporating intriguing and colorful elements of mystery, and a couple of relevantly mesmerizing characters.
In Yellowbrickroad, several young academics set out to re-chart a rural New England zone inexplicably reopened and declassified after an unsolved mass exodus emptied a nearby town 70 years in the past. And, you guessed, it, everyone disappeared in them thar hills. Except for their intestines, that is.
OK, not just their intestines. Other parts were found too, but not nearly enough to account for everyone. Some of the emigrants, intestines and all, just...well they just vanished, it we get the general idea.
Or do we?
Because except for several token nods to the 1939 classic, The Wizard Of Oz, Yellowbrickroad's enigma is so perplexing that we mostly forget to question several pretty far-fetched plot holes. Such as why people in the town where everyone disappeared a generation ago are so tight-lipped. If everyone left, presumably today's residents aren't the descendents, and so have no stake in the matter.
But that's OK, because something so unspeakable pervades the locale that just maybe it has a hold on everyone who is afraid to talk about it. One thing's for sure: when a group of 20-somethings venture into the spooky, spooky hills in search of a macabre mystery, we can predict that...well, let's just say, "we knew there'd be death!" A lot of it.
To its credit however, Yellowbrickroad avoids typical deep woods "Boo!" and splatter clichés, instead building on the wilderness atmosphere inherent in being disoriented in a labyrinthine forest. As the team's equipment fails, so do their minds, and the fact-seeking sleuths succumb to bedlam and violence. Time and space mean something different here, and all the while, period music from the era of the disappearance inexplicably wafts across the landscape. The trekkers can't determine it's source -or the way back. The path, nicknamed the "Yellow Brick Road" since its original followers departed from a local theater playing The Wizard Of Oz, held then, as today, some kind of symbolic "way out."
For the woods have swallowed our crew of intrepid explorers, their navigational aids won't work, and there seems to be no way off the trail. Reminiscent of an old fable about suicide, in which those who killed themselves were presumed to be dissatisfied with reality, and wound up sentenced to increasingly topsy-turvy, contrary worlds each time they attempted escape, the Yellow Brick Road in Yellowbrickroad obviously leads to some much weirder reality with the grim caveat of "be careful what you wish for."
Like the aforementioned Resolution, or the engrossing but talky, independent sci-fi thriller, Primer (2004), Yellowbrickroad is a niche film. It takes is dialogue-saturated time delivering us to the sensational payoff. All three vehicles would be more effective as half-hour shorts.
Yellowbrickroad offers some gruesome, blackly comedic skullduggery along the way, however and there's one forceful, enigmatic hint for what is to come: an unsettling sound effect that everyone will instantly recognize, but absolutely not be able to place. Until the ending that is, which slaps you with a sickening epitome of recognition, and of course, this adds to the shock value, making the journey worth the time, even if one has to hasten the hiking pace via judicious use of the Fast Forward button.
In 1940, the residents of Friar, New Hampshire walked up a mountain road. They were not seen again. The film starts with a recreation of part of the Army's subsequent investigation. In 2008, the coordinates of the trail head are declassified. A group bands together to investigate the incident.
The group is well equipped. They bring a six wheeled vehicle of some sort, multiple cameras, a high-quality sextant, GPS, compasses, maps, tents, and all manner of other things.
After the music and the noise starts, things start to go downhill. About the same time, the compasses start to wobble or spin. The GPS gives wildly variable and always false readings. The noise is intermittent and so loud that hands-over-the-ears is not enough to keep it from being debilitating. Their two-way radios become unreliable.
After one of the men kills Erin over a hat, the sanity of the group just drops off a cliff. They cannot agree on a way back, since their travel notes are gibberish. They split into smaller groups. One character jumps to her death. One character implores a woman companion to kill him; she eventually snaps his neck after he tells her how to do it. A man kills himself after filming a good-bye. Early on, their is a scene about the dangers of nightshade. Later a character commits suicide using nightshade.
Does anyone survive? Does anyone figure out the mystery that instigated the trek? Watch for the final seconds after the closing credits; a few images (supposedly) from the Army investigation are shown.
Cinematography: 5/10 Often OK, but has shaky cam now and then.
Sound: 0/10 Huge dynamic range, which is quite irritating. Make that worse than irritating. To hear its meaningless conversations, one needs to turn the sound up. A lot. To avoid breaking the speakers, or getting a visit from the cops, one needs to turn the sound down, down, down. The sound alone renders this film a failure.
Acting: 3/10 I liked Cassidy Freeman's (Smallville) performance fairly well. I cannot say the same for the rest of the cast. The +3 is for Ms Freeman alone.
Screenplay: 0/10 Pointless. Was the original purpose of the expedition achieved? Not even remotely. Did the dead characters gain any enlightenment before death? No. The ending was just one more fall into insanity.