Thursday, June 9, 2011
YellowBrickRoad was my most anticipated film watching experience of 2011. Having gained notoriety through various film festivals and having the mighty Bloody Disgusting step up and showcase it as its first offering in partnership with AMC theaters (more on that here), the film was positioned and poised to be one of the year's biggest indie horror hits. For me, it was my biggest disappointment.
Our film starts with being shown town archived photographs and hearing the audio recording of the lone survivor of a mass town exodus and subsequent disappearance. It seems that one day in 1940, the good folks of Friar, New Hampshire randomly decided to up and leave their little town and walk up a winding mountain road. Why exactly nobody knows but aside from the survivor, the rest were never seen or heard from again. To mark the trail, the words 'YellowBrickRoad' were etched into a rock at its starting point. And the townspeople never spoke of the incident again nor did they attempt to re-take that fateful trip.
After our history lesson, a man enters what appears to be a town's hall of records. Behind a fogged window and desk, an older man slides a file of papers under the window's opening and into the hands of the elated man. It seems like he's waited a long time for this information despite numerous attempts to keep it from him. Upon reviewing the file with his wife and friend, we learn that it contains much more detailed information about that mysterious trip.
We also learn that the man (an aspiring filmmaker***ed. correction, book writer) along with his wife and friend want to make a documentary about that day, complete with interviews from the townsfolk and an actual trip up the ill-fated mountain trail. Along with a group of other tag alongs, which includes a shrink, a botanist, a tracker and a few others (the characters are so thinly painted it was hard to keep track of who was who), they set out on their journey. But why a shrink you might ask? Apparently, the original group was going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs during their trek and our lead documentary filmmaker thought it was a good idea for one to come along and give random sanity spot checks. Are you with me?
After getting into town and having a few awkward conversations with the townsfolk about the actual locale of the road (after all, it's not outright documented on any map), a zealous worker at the local cinema house forces her way into the group and tells them she'll lead them up the road. Making their way out onto the road and starting off on their adventure, nothing of consequence happens in the early goings.
Here, instead of really focusing on character development to make us empathize with characters and getting us to do what all good movies should (make us care), we are instead exposed to side conversations that are very superficial and really don't reveal too much about who these people actually are. They're akin to 'I'm here and I'm along for the trip because this is what I do as a insert profession here____' types of conversations. Nothing interesting happens until we start hearing the sounds of big band era music pumping through the woods one day. At first, its met with a welcome to break up the monotony as there is a certain charm about it. It's hardly threatening. But what's odd is that no one decides to turn back around or make a run for the hills. Anyways, after a few days, the music becomes grating and representative of the group's rapidly deteriorating psyche.
So of course, our group starts to go nuts and people fly into inexplicable rages. When the proverbial shit hits the fan though, sure there is a brutality about it but in terms of caring, it's completely lacking. Despite the group's turning on each other, our lead filmmaker is bound and determined to make it to the end of the road, even leaving his wife behind to do so. When he makes it to the end, it's both confusing and uneventful. Somewhere, I think a larger message was trying to be conveyed. I thought that some sort of spiritual message was being imparted as one of our travelers mentions God in his conversations but any connection made with how the film actually ends just doesn't make any sense whatsoever. I know I'm being a bit vague here but I don't want to be spoiler-ish in any way.
Overall, YellowBrickRoad is flat out underwhelming. A real disappointment considering how much I was looking forward to it.
Cortez the Killer