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Simon Read [Film Festival 05.10.11] movie review horror

Year: 2010
Directors: Jesse Holland / Andy Mitton
Writers: Jesse Holland / Andy Mitton
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

This was the best film I saw at the festival this year and has stayed with me all last night and today. It proves that sound design and location can be as menacing as any movie monster out there, and that skilled actors reacting to both can be just as chilling.

We open with a title card informing us that in 1940 the residents of a small town in New Hampshire called Friar simply stopped what they were doing one day and left, heading North into the forest. When the army and FBI were sent in to investigate they found only a few scattered dead, mutilated bodies, but the vast percentage of the population were never found. Skip forward to the present day and documents relating to the investigation have finally been made public, and writer and academic Teddy Barnes eagerly collects the files from the records office and, with his wife Melissa, begins to organise a group to trek into the woods and look for any evidence as to what really happened in there. What follows is a brilliantly twisted and absolutely terrifying film, which is as unpredictable as it is unconventional. I really loved this film.

The group consists of Teddy and Melissa, a forest ranger, two map experts who happen to be brother and sister, an intern and Teddy's friend the psychiatrist Walter, who will document the trip and interview members of the group separately with his camera, just to see how the isolation effects everyone as the journey progresses. Tagging along is a teenager called Liv, who claims she had relatives who were part of the phenomenon and feels she has a personal mission to solve the mystery for herself.

Friar has slowly repopulated, although the locals are extremely spiky about anyone mentioning the incident, and resent the venture into what is now considered sacred ground, so when strange occurrences begin to develop during the first few days of the hike, the group mainly puts it down to being, "punked" by the locals. Unfortunately for our little group this turns out not to be the case, and the film takes us and them on a mind bending trip into the surreal and the just plain evil. This is a film in which to describe the plot is to give away all the cool bits, so I'll keep this as spoiler free as possible. The beginning of the film is the standard 'getting to know you' stuff where all the characters sit around a table and, "do the Summer camp thing" as Melissa puts it. Each character has an specific role and they speak excitedly about themselves and why they're on-board. Even the forest ranger, who has been assigned to the group as part of the terms and condition by the town seems genuinely fascinated by the mystery and keen to set off into the woods. At first spirits are high and Walter has some fun asking his interviewees behavioural questions. Early childhood memory? What smell do you associate with the colour red? Speak gibberish for me until I say stop. Mostly these get laughs, but as the group begin to fear the forest and spooky developments occur, we see their collective state of mind begin to fracture.

I've mentioned the sound design, but the specifics of that I cannot give away. Suffice it to say there is a sound, a very odd one which, faintly at first, much louder later, begins to pour over the forest and completely baffle everyone. When map expert Daryl finds a hat the group freak-out and it becomes a powerful symbol. Seems odd maybe, but if you see the film you'll understand. Daryl, a natural joker, says he'll wear the hat to keep it safe, much to the chagrin of his sister Erin who feels it's disrespectful. This spat leads to an event that turns the film from a simple 'In the woods thriller' into something approaching a nightmare, as the forest turns on the group and we begin to get a glimpse of what drew the townsfolk there seventy years before.

The cast here are uniformly excellent, with strong performances from all, and the film, although a horror story to be sure, is peppered with a dark sense of humour that works perfectly. For example, it contains the best scene of characters getting high that I've seen in a long time.

YellowBrickRoad is quite an achievement. I've never felt so claustrophobic in an outdoor environment, and it's testament to the skill of directors/writers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton that we feel this way. The forest is it's own world, a thick maze of trees with a vague trail leading to what nobody knows. The film is at it's best after the character introductions, as the group begin to interact and develop. Each character, while beginning as a standard movie role, shows their true colours as it were, and as the festival guide points out, even the 'nerdy' character shows personality traits that are unexpected and appreciated. The film will draw inevitable comparisons to that other film about people in the woods who have a camera and a bad time. I think YellowBrickRoad is a very different beast, one with bigger fangs that feels like less of a one-trick-pony, but before I mix any more metaphors I'll wrap this up with a plea for readers to check this out. It's unknown at present if we'll see a theatrical run but I know it's been picked up by High Fliers and will see a release on dvd soon.

A genuinely disturbing film, for which I was grateful.

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Brian (11 years ago) Reply

Saw this at the Brussels fantasy film festival last month and it was one of my favourite films out of the 30 or so I saw. Very original and highly recommended if you want somethign a little different.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

Poor Film, terrible acting and ending was awful!


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

Clearly polarizing audiences as it reaches more people, most of whom won't have the attention span to get why this is awesome. But I bet it'll have a devoted cult following as its true audience discovers it. It's certainly deserving.


Anonymous (10 years ago) Reply

Not quite sure whether to call it philosophical, baffling, or plain old weird. Definitely a creative and novel concept, clearly distinct from the generic slashers. Those who like to think will find this film a great mental masturbation.

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