Directed by Jesse Holland & Andy Mitton
Written by Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland
Starring Michael Laurino, Cassidy Freeman, Clark Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Lee Wilkof, Alex Draper, Laura Heisler, & Tara Giordano
Find out more info on the film here.
YELLOWBRICKROAD is a wilderness-horror film about a group of researchers investigating the disappearance of an entire town in New England in 1940. The film starts out ominously with aged photos of the abandoned town with a voice over of an audio interview conducted with the lone survivor. Though most of it is inaudible, it does prove to be an ominous opener to a very spooky film.
Soon, we meet our crew of researchers in the present day. Teddy (Michael Laurino) is lead investigator and feels drawn to this story for relatively unknown reasons after receiving information on the fated townsfolk by mysterious means. The rest of the crew is a likable bunch consisting of a psychologist, an intern, a guide, a local, Teddy’s wife, and brother and sister cartographers (Clark & Cassidy Freeman—best known as Tess Luthor from SMALLVILLE and the most recognizable of the bunch). The first half hour allows us to get to know this bunch and unlike other lost in the woods films, these guys are relatively likable. Those townsfolk that weren’t found dead disappeared down a woodland trail and as the research crew follow the same path, they begin to hear music from the 1940’s. Soon the fun begins to chip away as the crew begin to doubt their sanity. Multiple references to THE WIZARD OF OZ and the Yellow Brick Road appear, giving the story some depth and a nice mythos to follow, though the similarities are not poured on too thick. This isn’t a horrific version of Oz, but themes are swiped along the way.
The story falters only briefly as transitions from everything being ok to things turning ominous are occasionally less than subtle. It takes a bit of finesse for a descent into madness story to be effective and in the best of them, you follow the descender along the path and don’t even see the tilt into crazy-town until it’s too late. Here a few of the seams of the transition are noticeable on one or two of the beats (there’s a scene where Teddy has a breakdown that seems to come from nowhere midway through). It’s not a jarring transition, but there were one or two times when I was able to point out, “OK, here’s where things start going nuts.” And sure enough, they do. Not a huge complaint, but it’s something that took me out of the film a second or two as the writing process was a bit noticeable. It was fairly obvious these guys were going down a dark path from the beginning, but the road has to be believable to work. Here, for the most part it is, but there are a few potholes along the way.
Where YELLOWBRICKROAD is successful is the sense of dread the hikers feel along this trail. With haunting old music echoing through the high, swaying trees, the mood is contagiously dire. Using the video camera as a sort of psychological confessional, we see the psychologist of the group chart this descent in a fascinating manner. It’s a smart and subtle way to show how the sanity is beginning to fray at the ends. There is top notch acting throughout, even from the minor players. High in character and low in budget, you never miss the big budget effects. Director/writers Holland and Mitton go for an increasing sense of unease from start to finish until the last shreds of sanity are gone. YELLOWBRICKROAD is one of those films that makes you sit in the theater long after the credits role, thanking that you aren’t one of the poor souls on that trail.