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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » Movie Review: YellowBrickRoad (2010)

Movie Review: YellowBrickRoad (2010)

YellowBrickRoad (2010)An expedition treks out into the New Hampshire wilderness to find out what happened to 572 people who simply walked into the wilderness – many of whom were found dead, but many of whom were never found at all. Teddy and Melissa Barnes assemble a team and set out to discover what happened – a psychologist, an outdoorsman, a couple of surveyors and, at the last minute, a local resident who provides them with the location of the trailhead, which their documentation mistakenly (and with a startling appropriateness) has listed as the lobby of Friar, New Hampshire’s movie theater.

The horror/thriller trek-into-the-unknown with a ragtag bunch of curious adventurers isn’t terribly compelling: the expedition leaders are idealistic and determined despite clear and present danger; the outdoorsman/trail guide is, without fail, the voice of reason and butts heads with the idealistic expedition leaders; the rest of the expedition members are generally conflicted and suffer from split loyalties. None of this is unexpected. Nor is it, for me, unappreciated. I like the way these sorts of characters play against each other.

Nor is it unexpected when they begin to encounter the strange and somewhat terrifying effects of the wilderness – we already know that hundreds of people, following the exact same path, found appropriately morbid ends. Their credulity about some supernatural thing is understandable, though. They are modern, intelligent people. They have a psychologist with them, even. If anyone told me that following a particular trail would lead me to certain doom and not from the standard options of exposure, dehydration, bear attack, etc. I wouldn’t believe them either. Faced with this dichotomy, the expedition can’t really be blamed for thinking that it’s probably safe.

Nor is unexpected when they begin going crazy – a few days into their trip, they begin hearing music that seems to be coming from the direction they’re heading. They become irritable. The surveyors notice that somehow they’re travelling further than is possible; the landmarks and their surveys aren’t making any kind of sense when viewed backwards. The music gets louder. One person rips another’s leg off and smashes her skull in. Things quickly go downhill and they can’t find their way back. None of this is surprising.

But none of that is bad. YellowBrickRoad may play on these tropes, but it does them well. The rise in the tension is organic – the extreme violence, while very sudden, is not contrived. They all go insane in a Shining-esque way and they literally don’t know how to turn around.

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The characters are actually somewhat likeable, even if you find yourself muttering “idiot” at them sometimes – it’s not unbelievable or ridiculous idiocy, but the sort of idiocy that we’re all capable and guilty of, the sort that I find myself even defending even when I know better. Their dialogue is mostly pretty solid – even the parts where they seem to open themselves up after the shit has hit the fan, when you might expect every one of them to simply scream or cry. Because it’s not so much a paralyzing fear or terror that they’re facing, but a slowly rising panic that they’re dealing with. The pacing is excellent in this regard, as well. The acting? Not awful, but there are no award-winning performances here. They’re generally believable – they capture the more or less simple emotions they need to.

The only major criticism that I have is the ending – it certainly works on certain levels, but less on others. The expedition members have completely split up by this point with Teddy being the only one to reach the end of the “Yellow Brick Road.” Where it works is that Teddy finds himself in a theater. What doesn’t work is the surreal film that he watches and finishes the movie out – the theme of the movie-within-the-movie is only introduced halfway through the movie as a dream that his wife tells him she had. It seems to pull in a very Lynch-esque direction but doesn’t really work for me. The profundity of the theater manager (a veritable Wizard of Oz) really seems too self-aware for the movie – it tells us what we’ve already witnessed. While it makes sense, it almost felt condescending. I think I actually said, “well, duh.” Where it works, again, though, is the atmospheric despair and futility; which is undermined by the explicit statements about despair and futility.

I actually found YellowBrickRoad to be a pretty entertaining and imaginative movie – it’s not a gore-fest, which is a relief. The supernatural aspects of what’s happening out in the wilderness is subdued and creepy more for what we don’t see. The sudden brutality of their actions is surprising but not contrived. There’s way more to like about this movie than there is to dislike. You just have to give them the benefit of the doubt on the fact that they’re even going out there – people are curious and people sometimes make bad mistakes that they continue to follow through on despite knowing better. People hit points of no return. And this movie plays on those themes for a wonderful effect. I would recommend it for anyone who’s up for a creepy, lonely flick. It manages to pull of a pressure cooker situation in a wide-open space, which is admirable. Despite a somewhat nonsensical and rushed ending, it’s still enjoyable even to the end.

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