Thursday, June 9, 2011

YellowBrickRoad (2010)

Fear 2/5
Gore 3/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 3/5

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


Strange Kid said...

Great review, Cortez.

I was a bit thrown by the ending as well. There could have also been a few more twisted allusions to the Wizard of Oz story as well... the "scarecrow" was a nice touch, but didn't really mesh with the rest of the story.

Mike/All Things Horror said...

Except for the ending, I disagree with your other points on the film. Compared to most horror out there, I thought this was a pretty well developed group with their own foibles. At one point the professor wants to turn back, but is shouted down. What's that expression about being young and dumb? When it went off the rails, it went off FAST.

Planet of Terror said...

@StrangeKid, thanks sir! I was so focused on the actual underlying message (real or implied) that I completely forgot about that part. I can't remember the last time I was this let down by a film's ending.

@Mike, I do agree that production wise, its better than most. Character development, foibles and all, I thought was severely lacking. And was he really that young? I kind of took it as more of a selfish, at all costs type of thing. But without a payoff or real rationale for doing what he did, it makes the end just flat out pointless and dull.

Randall E said...

Interesting discussion. This movie was imperfect, but when indie filmmakers get a movie out there for very little money that's actually an original story that tries to do something new, your disappointment in the ending shouldn't be the emphasis here. The emphasis should be on celebrating stories that aren't sequels or remakes, you know how hard it is to get that done nowadays and get it in theaters with no stars or anything? I dunno, I think we should be encouraging this kinda thing, not batting it down again cause the ending was too David Lynch for our taste. Just my opinion.

Planet of Terror said...

Randall, I appreciate your enthusiasm. As mentioned, I thought it was an original concept and that is something that is certainly worth celebrating (good independent productions and making mention of them is something that I think we do a pretty good job of doing on this blog). But at the end of the day, indie production or not, a good story is a good story. This is one, while original in concept, is not. While I appreciate how difficult it is to get things out into the theaters nowadays that is fresh, original and devoid of any stars (and it should be rightfully celebrated when it does occur), it does not excuse the fact that a film can be ultimately lacking. That's just my two cents. Your mileage may differ.

And I must respectfully disagree on the David Lynch comment. If the whole of the film followed a similar aesthetic and style, I could understand that. But for the most part, the film followed a very linear path. I think the ending was very lazy. It was almost like the filmmakers didn't know how to end things.

Randall E said...

I'm actually am a big enough horror fan (currently studying film myself in Florida) that I've seen the film twice now in theaters on consecutive Wednesdays, and while I don't think most good stories should require multiple viewings to understand, I would urge you to see this one a second time. There were a lot of things that came together for me, so much so that I would never call it "lazy". And frankly I think you just missed some things, and that's evidenced in your review where there are mistakes in the synopsis. For instance, the man leading the expedition wasn't an aspiring filmmaker, they were writing a book and taking photographs for it. And the dialogue in the film that you found inconsequential and revealing nothing of the characters I actually thought was laden with subtext, something you don't find so often in horror movies and I really appreciate. I like having to do a little work, a little extra listening, the sort of thing you find more often in plays than in movies.

Different strokes, I guess. It's funny because we both went in with really high levels of anticipation about this movie. But when I left the theater, on one side of the scale I had an ending that was underwhelming, but on the other side of the scale there was amazing cinematography, excellent ensemble acting (in my opinion, anyway), tons of well-built suspense, and the best sound design I've heard in a long time. Endings are crucial (and I still think this one's better than you think), but these other things are rare and special and for me at the end of the day there's a lot more to movies than linear storytelling. Luckily I don't think I'm alone since I've read great reviews in AintItCool News, FearNet, BrutalAsHell, lots more - just to make sure I wasn't going crazy. So I guess it's pretty polarizing. But hey, movies that spark debate beat the hell of out of movies that you forget the next day. And here we are talking, right?

Planet of Terror said...

Absolutely Randall! I couldn't agree more.

I appreciate the same in the film, getting more involved than just a surface level. Hell, one of my favorite indie horror films of the past two years Dawning, is completely involving and requires you to pay attention to every bit of dialogue, every word uttered in order to 'get it.' Maybe I should give this one another shot. It wouldn't be the first time I've done so and have come back with a resulting mea culpa!

Thanks for the correction on the synopsis. The man leading the expedition was more interested in a book and not necessarily documenting everything. And to clarify, I didn't mean the film was lazy. It was anything but. I felt like the ending was.

And being polarizing is the primary reason why I love horror films so much. It creates debate and (hopefully) healthy discussion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Randall.

Emily said...

Hmmmm. Bummed to see this disappointed you, though the back and forth here makes me think it's definitely worth watching to decide where I stand. Time shall tell!

Chris Hallock said...

I'll be catching this in the next week or so as we're lucky enough to have one of the AMC theaters hosting the BD handpicked films.

Great review! I'm curious to see how I'll feel about it based on the division between you and Mike.