*Minor Spoilers Ahead
YellowBrickRoad is a psychological horror of two halves – written and directed by two men which possibly explains the distinct nature of each piece. A rural gothic tale, merging found-footage techniques with a sense of growing fear and paranoia due to loss and isolation, and evoking memories of films such as The Blair Witch Project, while simultaneously parading Slasher movie tropes and a Lynchian influence; it is a messy movie at times but one that nevertheless deserves to find an audience.
Beginning as many of these types of films do, or must, we learn of a particularly creepy urban legend and meet the team of investigators who have taken it upon themselves to try to solve the mystery, documenting their discoveries along the way. Our particular legend tells of a small town whose entire population wandered off into the wilderness one day in 1940, without explanation. Later searches by the Army resulted in only half the town’s population being found – all dead, mutilated, frozen, while the other few hundred inhabitants were never found. A chilling enough story which warrants many campfire discussions – enter our team of intrepid professors and technicians who are willing to follow the trail which the inhabitants took, to see if they can uncover the truth. Surely in this modern age of advanced technology, bringing along assorted maps, navigational tools, a quad, even a psychologist, nothing can go wrong?
The film gets off to a slow-burning start, as we meet our team of investigators led by Teddy Barnes and his wife who wish to write a story about the mystery, and their attempts at solving it. Others include their psychologist friend, an intern, and a brother and sister duo who specialize in technology and numbers. Struggling to even find the trail, they meet one of the locals, Liv, who will help as long as she can join them. As soon as they start down the trail there is no turning back.
The opening half of the film effectively builds up the mystery, lets us get some genuine feels for the characters, and has plenty of amusing and tense moments. Early on, once the slightly odd, but generally inoffensive stuff (which the group shakes off) begins to happen, the viewer still feels that the group could turn around and leave at any time, but slowly and steadily, the weird stuff increases, the atmosphere becomes more tense, and the chills begin to creep in until it seems there can be no escape.
There is good dialogue throughout, and although we get the standard ‘no-one would ever do that’ moments as are typical in horror fare, much of what we see we believe, knowing that the human mind is a fragile thing which can be easily influenced or corrupted by a bombast of sensation. The use of the Big Brother style Q&A is effective, as it subtly shows the disintegration of each member, leading to one chilling answer to the recurring question ‘what is your earliest childhood memory’? One of the group simply answers ‘standing at the trail-head to Yellow Brick Road’.
Unsettling old-timey music can be heard in the distance, eventually becoming deafening, the GPS goes haywire, and the numbers taken to show that the group are travelling in the right direction and would lead them back the way they came stop making sense. Around this point this first part of the movie bleeds into the second, as we get a Lynchian conclusion which leaves no question unasked, and will likely frustrate viewers who demand answers to be nicely wrapped.
For a low budget movie, the directors do a fantastic job – the film is all about disorientation, atmosphere, and tension, rather than straightforward scares. Don’t go into this expecting a standard horror film as this has more in common with The Shining than the cover art suggests. A group descent into madness, played out well thanks to a thought-provoking script and a decent cast. Each performer does well, we do get to know and enjoy the group’s camaraderie which makes their downfall all the more haunting, although possibly some bigger names may have added some icing to the cake.
Viewers will debate the film for years, at least those who aren’t totally turned off by the ending. It seems that the writer/director duo could have dropped a few more hints towards the reason for the original group heading off into the wilderness, if not suggestions as to what happened to them, but I’m happy for the most part to leave it up to my imagination. Although there are some bloody moments, the violence isn’t excessive, and aside from one scene much of what happens is off camera, again leaving it up to your imagination to fill in the blanks. A good soundtrack, visually pleasing cinematography, an omnipresent sense of the wilderness closing in on the group, and the film ensures that this will leave a lasting impression for those who like their horror to ask more questions than are answered.
All in all I enjoyed this one and I’m curious to know what everyone else makes of it. Let us know in the comments!