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1 review, 4 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Manages a shiver or two, and that's rarer than it sounds."
4 stars

"Yellowbrickroad" is a movie constructed out of every tangentially-related spooky idea that its makers could graft onto the setting, and that grab-bag approach can be a dangerous way to put a movie together, even one where the usual rules may not apply. The demand for rigor can go out the window if a movie can at least give the audience goosebumps, though, and this one does regularly succeed at lowering the temperature of the room.

In 1940, the film posits, the residents of Friar, New Hampshire, all left their homes and walked into the woods. Most were never seen again, others were found brutally killed, and the one survivor was driven insane. In the present day, Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) gets hold of the government's records on this with the intent of putting together a book on the subject. He'll photograph, while his wife and co-author Melissa (Anessa Ramsey) will be the field leader. Also along are their friend Walter Myrick (Alex Draper), a psychologist studying the group's reactions; Cy Banbridge (Sam Elmore) from the Forestry Service; Daryl (Clark Freeman) and Erin Luger (Cassidy Freeman), sibling cartographers; Jill the intern (Tara Giordano); and Liv McCann (Laura Heisler), the one local interested in helping. As they go deeper into the woods, things start to get weird - Jill's GPS becomes extremely unreliable, Daryl finds an old-fashioned but new-looking hat, and the sound of seventy-year-old music seems to be coming from the end of the trail.

If the trail even has an end, of course. The woods can seem disorienting and impossible to escape in real life; in a movie that allows for the supernatural, well, everybody knows the drill by now. To their credit, filmmakers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton don't push that angle early - the GPS which alternately puts them in Guam, South American, and Australia may just be busted, and having a pair of mapmakers along both pushes it off and means that when it does appear, the characters are extraordinarily screwed. In the meantime, the audience isn't stuck being told that the characters are lost when they can't visually tell one bit of woods from another.

That's a clever way of using traditional horror tropes well, and Holland & Mitton have a few others up their sleeves. They're good at choosing situations that put the audience in the characters' shoes - things like finding the hat or Walter's Q&A sessions come off as strange but not peculiar enough that the audience is yelling at the party for being obtuse. The music is used extremely well - not inherently eerie, but so out-of-place and constant and, eventually, loud that the audience gets an idea of what the characters are going through... and then when it disappears the absence is unnerving (good job by sound designer Daniel Brennan).

Holland & Mitton mostly stay out of the cast's way, which mostly works. The eight people in the party is just about as many as there can reasonably be, and there are no obvious weak links. Still, the numbers do make it somewhat difficult to get to know some characters individually, particularly Teddy and Melissa. Michael Laurino and Anessa Ramsey don't do a bad job, by any means; there just doesn't seem to be much detail given to their personalities beyond Melissa being adventurous and capable and Teddy being the one that is always going to want to push on. The cast works well as a group, though - it's clear which ones have known each other a long time and which ones are just meeting but still connecting. When things get tense toward the end, every member of the cast hits the right note for their individual characters, even if it's not necessarily the usual way these stories go.

There are some other pitfalls, like a couple moments when the lack of much in the way of an effects budget shows. The biggest issue is the film's pieced-together mythology: While this sort of movie doesn't need all of the details spelled out - fear in part comes from things being unknown and unknowable - they work best when there's at least an emotional theme connecting them. Yellowbrickroad has many good pieces, though they only form part of a picture.

So it could be better. On the other hand, many movies that have all their ducks in a row barely evoke shocks, while "Yellowbrickroad" manages shivers, multiple times. Shivers are much rarer, and when a movie can evoke them, it's done something special.

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originally posted: 06/14/11 13:37:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Slamdance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/15/14 nate needed stronger direction, good atmosphere, odd ending 4 stars
6/18/14 damalc pretentious & uninteresting. no payoff. 2 stars
6/19/11 Ming A very scarely and eerie film..Lots of loud music, a little bit of distraction to me 2 stars
1/24/10 Daryl Luger Awesome 5 stars
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  01-Jun-2011 (R)


  01-Jun-2011 (MA)

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