This doesn’t mean I’ll always recommend them. As one who has watched a fair share of genre entries from indie storytellers, it just ain’t easy to always ‘get it right.’ The ones that do typically start out with a very strong story – or an easily-relatable central thread – and then stick as close to that road as is humanly possible. Straying from that central path typically introduces a handful of variables that not only test the limited financing but also the audience’s patience: viewers will only suspend disbelief so far, and some risky secondary plots should really be avoided at all costs.
And independent Horror? That’s an even harder sell. While the major studios can throw all kinds of money into effects both digital and practical, those who shirk away from bigger production houses in favor of more creative control really need to up-their-game with a vital winning concept – i.e. a truly inspired story. If they don’t, then they run the risk of alienating not only anyone who inevitably purchases a ticket but also the investors who shared in that original dream. You lose both crowds, and you’ll likely never film a picture in this town again, a harsh truth indeed.
At the very least, 2010’s YellowBrickRoad swung for the fences (if you get the baseball analogy). While the screenwriting and directing team of Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland may’ve had to settle for a base hit (at best), they still crafted a little something something that occasionally impresses. Sadly, those big ideas failed to reach an equally big destination – so far as this reviewer is concerned – and those muddled last images likely didn’t endear audiences to let them try again.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“In 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire abandoned their homes and walked up a nearby mountain path, never to be seen alive again. Seventy years later, a team of researchers intent on solving the mystery find the long-forgotten trail marker and embark on a journey along the same cursed road.”
Meaning absolutely no disrespect to anyone involved with YellowBrickRoad, but haven’t we seen this film before? Any time there’s a local legend involving some tragedy that’s gone unexplained for years, then somewhere sometime someone is going to go looking into what happened, only to come face-to-face in the same dire predicament with the same bad ending?
Yes, yes, and yes: I suspect each of us has seen some variation on this classic form, but I’d still encourage film students, horror fans, and like-minded folks to invest 100 minutes of their lives in what might be the best education possible on the best ways to make use of creating a creepy atmosphere on a super-affordable budget. Storytellers Mitton and Holland do certainly get their money’s worth in that regard: they take a brilliant conspiracy set-up (reminiscent of the kind of thing The X-Files did only a weekly basis) and transform a nearby woodland into a menace as compelling as Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers put together. But this indie Horror really runs out of steam for no other reason than we’ve seen it all before … and at a much more palatable length.
YellowBrickRoad’s greatest drawback is that – unlike The Wizard Of Oz, from which their script draws obvious and clever inspiration – it ultimately ends not long after it starts: the events spiral predictably into chaos the audience easily sees coming and, yet, its characters march blissfully onward. Players in even cinema’s biggest Horror franchises have been screamed at by audiences for decades – don’t open that door, don’t look under that bed, don’t go into those woods alone – and somehow it just hasn’t helped scripts grow any smarter. In the event that not everyone reaches that fateful destination (duh), there still must be some reward for those that do … but we’re not even given legitimate closure on that level when this flick’s Emerald City only offers up what looks to be more of the same … meaning nothing more than perhaps an insult slung by the filmmakers: “you’re only watching a movie, doofus.”
To the film’s credit, YellowBrickRoad scored a bit of praise from the film festival circuit, and why shouldn’t it? To some degree, independent features – more often than not – are made exactly for audiences that go to film festivals. It’s the kind of inventive thing they eat up at each and every opportunity. While that doesn’t detract from the film’s strengths – I guarantee you no hiker should look at the average trail the same way after watching this (and, yes, I consider myself a hiker, thank you very much) – it still limits the scope of influence into corners where regular folks just wanna be entertained for 90 minutes. On that regard, YellowBrickRoad could’ve used more traction.
YellowBrickRoad (2010) was produced by Points North Films. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated via the folks at Lightyear. As for the technical specifications? Again, I’m no trained video expert … but while I had no problems with the nature of the video quality I’d have to confess this has to be one of the worst sound mixes I’ve had the misfortune to sit through. That isn’t owed to the bizarre nature of the story; rather the recording levels were set so inconsistently I had to crank this thing all the way up in order to even understand most of the spoken words … and still there were a lot of unintelligible sentences. On one hand, the dialogue isn’t as key to the story being told, but that it makes the experience more than a bit uneven at far too many times.
Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then you’re in for a treat. This Updated Special Edition collection includes:
- A director’s commentary from Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland;
- A few newly-produced behind-the-scenes ‘making of’ featurettes; and
- A nice collection of interviews with cast and crew looking back on the experience of making the feature film.
Generally speaking, I’ve always been a fan on indie Horror, but YellowBrickRoad really tested my sensibilities in a few ways. See, I can look past an inferior effects sequence. I can forgive a weak acting performance. I’ll even overlook the undercooked blemish here and there … but what’s the point of it all if the trip essentially takes you nowhere? If the final destination raises more questions than the film ever asks, was the journey worthwhile? In that regard, it’s hard to enthusiastically recommend a feature I wanted to like but found, ultimately, incomplete, sometimes inaudible, and inconsistent. It feels more experimental – or maybe a benign flick for students to study how to accomplish some things on-a-budget – but otherwise? Meh.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lightyear provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of YellowBrickRoad: Updated Special Edition by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.