Sunday, April 01, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—YellowBrickRoad (2011) ***½

R, 100 min.
Directors/Writers: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
Starring: Michael Laurino, Anessa Ramsey, Alex Draper, Cassidy Freeman, Clark Freeman, Tara Giordano, Sam Elmore, Laura Heisler, Lee Wilkof

As a horror aficionado, I have a pretty strong heart for these types of movies, but “YellowBrickRoad” filled me with a sense of utter hopelessness. I believe that’s what they were going for, and they get there in a way that masks just how low budget this feature is. This is a horror movie for the horror fan looking for something that he can’t get out of just any old horror flick.

The story follows a group of people hired to help a writer research the disappearance of an entire New Hampshire town’s citizenship. 70 years ago, the entire population of Friar went for a walk in the woods, most were never seen again, those who were turned up dead. Modern day citizens have come to call the trail they walked as Yellow Brick Road. A writer and his wife hire a pair of map makers, a National Forest Ranger, and a Psychologist to walk the trail with them to try to decipher not only what happened to those people, but why. This is not a good idea.

Not wanting to give away any of the details of their trek, I’d like to comment on the mood of the movie. Certainly, it’s no surprise that bad things are going to happen in the woods, but never have I seen a movie that gives the audience such a sense of despair about the characters’ plights. Hoping against all hope is a phrase that comes to mind. Perhaps that’s what the writers-directors wished to explore about the human spirit. Once things start going wrong, there is a sense they will never be right and the people never even had a chance. Yet, the characters want to survive. They do try.

The story and its tone reminded me of the work of Stephen King.  A lot of people will relate any horror story to King because he is the most popular modern horror writer. But, just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it’s anything like a King story. This one uses many of his signatures, the first being that perseverance against all hopelessness. The story also uses old legends and music in the same way King often incorporates these elements into a story. The King story that most readily comes to mind is “The Shining”. Nobody here has the psychic abilities of the boy in “The Shining”, and that is where this movie departs from King. Those psychic abilities are his characters’ chance to survive their ordeal. There is no such hope to be found here.

“YellowBrickRoad” is not a horror movie for everyone. For those dedicated to the genre, however, it is well done and worth a look. 


t-rocc said...

yeah, the Stephen King connection rings true. maybe it's the New England setting, maybe it's the style it approaches this Lovecraftian "mysteries bigger than can be explained" vibe, but whatever it is, i know exactly what you mean.

you didn't say much about the sound work, which i honestly thought was the thing that made a lot of this movie as effective as it was - to me, anyway. that one real turning point of a scene where everyone's watching it happen but no one can really hear anything... i don't cringe or want to turn away from a film all that often, but that was one of those moments for real

Andrew D. Wells said...

I didn't say anything about the sound work. That's a flaw in my Penny Thoughts format. Surely, the sound is one of the greatest factors in this film's success. I've no doubt the scene to which you refer. What's interesting is that even the camera seems to have to fight the urge to turn away from it. It's very well done in the way it shows what is happening and yet only enough for your imagination to take care of the rest and at that point turning away is ineffective.

Another King novel of which this movie really reminded me was 'From a Buick 8'. The other worldly and etherial sound of the music they hear, its utter lack of context in the woodland setting, and the complete lack of explanation for just what happened out there all remind me of this overlooked novel of King's. Of course, King always allows the slightest glimmer of hope to survive and sometimes far more than a glimmer.