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DIRECTED BY: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
FEATURING: Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Laura Heisler, Lee Wilkof, Clark Freeman, Michael Laurino, Alex Draper, Tara Giordano, Sam Elmore
PLOT: A small entourage of pseudo-anthropologists encounters disorientation, bedlam and horror on the trail of a historic mass disappearance.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Yellowbrickroad’s set-up is not so odd—a bunch of 20-somethings lost in the woods. We’ve seen this a thousand times, although some very strange things occur in the woods in Yellowbrickroad. What pushes it over the precipice of weird is the ending, and what it means. The gruesome, ethereal ending changes the entire story into a bizarre horror odyssey, and this, combined with surreal settings and occasional use of blue monochrome cinematography, deliver a viewing experience that morphs from garden variety unusual to full-blown weird.
COMMENTS: A fortnight ago I discussed the independent puzzler, Resolution (2012). It’s plodding and pensive, but delivers on its clever high concept with a disturbing climax. The glibly-titled Yellowbrickroad follows a like formula and offers a similar experience. It’s enigmatic, and saves all of its open-ended answers for its lurid finale. While Yellowbrickroad has fewer puzzler paradoxes than Resolution, first time feature film writer/directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton do a pretty good job considering their half mil micro-budget, incorporating intriguing and colorful elements of mystery, and a couple of mesmerizing characters, into the script.
In Yellowbrickroad, several young academics set out to re-chart a rural New England zone inexplicably reopened and declassified after an unsolved mass exodus emptied a nearby town 70 years ago. And, you guessed, it, everyone disappeared into them thar hills. Except for their intestines, that is.
OK, not just their intestines. Other parts were found too, but not nearly enough to account for everyone. Some of the emigrants, intestines and all, just…well they just vanished. We get the general idea.
Or do we?
Because, except for several token nods to the 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz, Yellowbrickroad’s enigma is so perplexing that we mostly forget to question several pretty far-fetched plot holes. Such as why people in the town where everyone disappeared a generation ago are so tight-lipped. If everyone left, presumably today’s residents aren’t the descendents, and so have no stake in the matter.
But that’s OK, because something so unspeakable pervades the locale that just maybe it has a hold on everyone who is afraid to talk about it. One thing’s for sure: when a group of 20-somethings venture into the spooky, spooky hills in search of a macabre mystery, we can predict that…well, let’s just say, “we knew there’d be death!” A lot of it.
To its credit however, Yellowbrickroad avoids typical deep woods “boo!” and splatter clichés, instead building on the atmosphere inherent in being disoriented in a labyrinthine forest. As the team’s equipment fails, so do their minds, and the fact-seeking sleuths succumb to bedlam and violence. Time and space mean something different here, and all the while, period music from the era of the disappearance inexplicably wafts across the landscape. The trekkers can’t determine it’s source—or the way back. The path, nicknamed the “Yellow Brick Road” since its original followers departed from a local theater playing The Wizard Of Oz, held then, as today, some kind of symbolic “way out.”
For the woods have swallowed our crew of intrepid explorers, their navigational aids won’t work, and there seems to be no way off the trail. Reminiscent of an old fable about suicide, in which those who killed themselves were presumed to be dissatisfied with reality, and wound up sentenced to increasingly topsy-turvy, contrary worlds each time they attempted escape, the Yellow Brick Road in Yellowbrickroad obviously leads to some much weirder reality, with the grim caveat of “be careful what you wish for.”
Like the aforementioned Resolution, or the engrossing but talky, independent sci-fi thriller Primer (2004), Yellowbrickroad is a niche film. It takes its dialogue-saturated time delivering us to the sensational payoff. All three vehicles would be more effective as half-hour shorts.
Yellowbrickroad offers some gruesome, blackly comedic skullduggery along the way, however, and there’s one forceful, enigmatic early hint of what is to come: an unsettling sound effect that everyone will instantly recognize, but absolutely not be able to place. Until the ending, that is, which slaps you with a sickening epitome of recognition. Understanding the sound only adds to the shock value and will have you repeating the tagline from the 1972 The Last House On The Left: “it’s only a movie.”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…by about the one-hour mark, nothing has really happened, and instead of continuing to slow simmer the tension, they turn the carnage up to 11 and we arrive at something resembling a mid-’90s Marilyn Manson music video. Just bizarre.”–Michael C. Walsh, The Boston Phoenix (contemporaneous)
Yellowbrickroad movie trailer
3 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)”
Very sorry to say this but I really disliked this film! This review got me quite excited, and recently I’ve been much less of a snob about films and able to get into more indie, low-budget ones… I mean, most of my favorite films are pretty high-profile ones these days, even if in their time they too were indie or low-budget, like Eraserhead, or perhaps gorgeously made and generously financed but essentially indie and certainly left-field, or abstract, like Antichrist. Regardless I still consider my taste to be quite open-minded and I’m ready for whatever. Because of this website I watched and enjoyed (most of) Resolution, which doesn’t match up to the caliber of the previous films I mentioned or usually enjoy, but was still obviously pretty special nonetheless. I thought this film would be similar… but it’s totally not! It starts off decent enough to be sure but by the time the one hour mark comes along, the descent into the nothing and meh-ness its destined to become has already been well on its way. The ending is just… I mean, I think by mentioning Antichrist and Eraserhead as among my favorite movies sort of helps make it clear that I don’t have a problem with so-called ambiguous endings, and I actually prefer fucked-up endings, I really get off on them, but after a lot of nonsense with characters inexplicably going “crazy” the ending was all I really had left to look forward to, and it kept going, and going, and going, until the final few minutes where it presented it’s “strange” er, “mind-fuck” or whatever in the world it was going for, and I am sad to say I DID NOT GET IT… and I suspect, somewhere inside, that it meant nothing, and not to say that it should have meant anything, but I think it also looked silly. I am not trying to be a huge hater of this film or anything, and I’m happy to watch another film I’ve previous not known about, but I’m a bit curious as to how this could get such a positive write-up on this website and even be considered a possible list candidate? No way!!! This write-up was far more interesting than the film itself… oh gosh, anyway! Okay!
I mean you know, maybe I didn’t even dislike it that much so much as I was just really really disappointed. I don’t know!
Long time lurker here.
My opinion of this movie: I liked it, though I recognize that the presentation is shoddy in places. Some of the acting, I thought, was lackluster. And a lot of the effects, particularly at the end of the movie, make the film’s low budget very apparent.
There are certain kinds of horror movies that appeal to me, I wouldn’t exactly call them “Philosophical Horror” films–mostly because these movies really aren’t that philosophical when you get around to it–but that is the term that comes to mind regardless. I guess the commonality of these movies is that they creep-out more from ideas, or the suggestion of an idea, than gore or jump scares. I’m thinking of Martyrs, Sauna, Antichrist, and Suicide Club (a lot of Sion Sono’s movies, actually).
Yellowbrickroad is not as good as any of those movies I just listed, but it does something that I think is kind of interesting: It introduces a strange event, sends some people to investigate that strange event, and then doesn’t even bother to explain it–at least, not in a traditional way. I love that sort of thing. It doesn’t even go with a traditionally supernatural explanation (“It’s ghosts, lol!”). It just sort of throws a little bit of weirdness at you, and then ends.
If I were to hazard a guess about what, if anything, this movie was about, it would be about the act of finding meaning. The anthropologists, specialists, whatever, attempt to extract meaning from the road, the mountains, the distorted sounds, and instead find: no logical answer, craziness, random acts of violence. Even worse is the implication that there never was a way out once they got into town. I think the ticket guy at the beginning and the usher at the end are the same person.
Then again, I might just be reading entirely too much into a slightly strange B-Horror movie. I have a tendency to do that.
It was hard for me to dislike this movie, since it was cerebral horror starring twenty-somethings lost in the woods, and I dig that stuff. I’m gonna watch it again though because I didn’t ‘get’ it.