Yellowbrick Road (2010)
(15) Running Time: 99 minutes
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Yellowbrick Road has gained some glowing reviews after its festival run earlier this year, and with Bloody Disgusting releasing the film, I just had to see what all the fuss was about. Rumours of a new Blair Witch style horror, with some saying it was better than the previous lost in the woods handheld chiller. Is Yellowbrick Road better? No, but, it is not too far off being as good as. In terms of plot, there is not much, and to reveal too much would risk spoiling the plot development in the film, so I will keep the plot as brief as possible.
Six friends head to the quiet countryside of New England and the small village of New Hampshire where a horrific event claimed the lives of no less than 572 residents. In 1940 they all decided to head up a mysterious trail in the countryside, never to return. The residents left behind their belongings, their clothes and even their pets. A search party by the army found some 300 bodies frozen or hideously mutilated, whilst the rest were never found. The story became an urban legend, and years later the mysterious path has become hidden both from view and from maps, the town has repopulated, and the six friends have come here in search of answers. They have found a map with the trail on, so with cameras in hand, they head to the town and to the trail. Along the way they pick up a local resident who wants to join them on their quest, they agree and after some bonding the character development, we head off into the countryside, the creepy woods and hopefully the Yellowbrick Road trail.
The events that follow are haunting, deeply unsettling and very very well presented. We have spent a good twenty five minutes getting to know each and every character, I won’t bore you with details but the characters are all believable, interesting and, most importantly, likeable. The build up may be a little too slow for some (the lack of any music makes each scene feel longer than it actually is) but if you get past this, stick with the film and wait till we arrive in the woods, you are in for a treat, so long as you are in the mood for a slow builder. This film is all about atmosphere and, whilst nothing really scary actually happens, the whole mood of the film will engulf you and draw you in to the point where even a shot of the trees is enough to send shivers down your spine. The majority of the film is also shot in daylight, a tricky setting for a horror, and one that works far better than at night if you can pull it off. For the most part, the director’s do. The lack of music and the often use of handheld camera or even binoculars make the whole setting disturbing as any nightmare. As the characters begin to lose their minds, so do you as you have been with these normal people from the beginning.
They camp out and trek through miles and miles and woods and open country to find this trail and in a freakish and very very unsettling turn of events, bizarre music begins to play, constantly. Now, I don’t mean the score for this film, this is music coming from somewhere in the woods, but where, and why? Questions which, at times, you would rather not find the answers to. As the tension mounts and the chill begin to set in, the film takes a very very unpleasant turn with its first death. I will not go into details but it is wrong in so many ways, and I don’t mean in a gruesome way (although a leg being torn off is pretty damned horrific) but its the way the murder happens. We watch, helplessly through binoculars, you can just make out the screams and it really is one of those rarest of moments where you feel complete and utter fear. I actually had to rewind and watch the scene again just to help it sink in, and for this scene alone the director’s should be applauded for such impressive effects on a clearly tight budget, and the way it is shot with a clear skill and care to shock the audience. From here things get more intense, the music gets louder, and one particular scene is up there with one of the finest and downright unsettling moments this year. A sound has all but deafened the group, and we hear what they here, sudden bursts of loud noise over a deep hum as if you were listening to loud music under water, the camera jolts and shakes, the group get hit with sudden jolts of god knows what but they leap forward of fall over, holding their ears and screaming in pain. Panic is all over their faces and you begin to wonder just what the fuck is going on.
To tell you much more would spoil it, but the cast all give stand out performances, the direction, for its budget, is top notch and the setting and original ideas are superb. The film is by no means a classic, but this is the best example of stripped down to the bare bones horror which relies more on atmosphere than blood and guts (although there is plenty of violence on offer). The cast drive the film with their realistic portrayals of a party of friends quite literally scared to death, the pacing is a little slow at times, but you never feel bored as the story alone is interesting enough. The freakish music works really well, better than expected actually, and a bizarre and confusing ending will leave you gasping and thinking for days. I saw this film a week a go, and it is still on my mind, which is the mark of a good film. It will haunt you and get under you skin, if you let it. Yellowbrick Road is a creepy and inventive horror a million miles from you Saws and Screams. Good or bad, I like horror to take a new and brave direction, and Yellowbrick Road deserves your respect just for that. Yes, the lost in the woods genre has been done to death, but never like this, and never with so many unexpected moments. Yellowbrick Road is well worth your time and effort.
[pt-filmtitle]Yellow Brick Road[/pt-filmtitle]