OCTOBER 9, 2010
For all its problems, I will defend YellowBrickRoad against any haters, because despite several Wizard of Oz references, no one ever said “We’re not in Kansas anymore” (or any paraphrasing of it), which is one of those over-used clichés that makes me want to kill screenwriters. Of course, it might have been said during the period where I stepped out to blow my nose, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
Owing a huge debt to Blair Witch Project, the movie is pretty good for its first hour or so, as we meet our group, learn about their goal, and watch them slowly crack up as they walk the titular path in hopes of discovering why the entire populace of the town (Friar, New Hampshire, which does not exist in real life) disappeared along the trail in 1940. It’s a straight-forward narrative (though there are occasional POV shots from a video camera), but the “based on a true story” thing, the fact that they get hopelessly lost in the woods, the psychological terror, strange sounds... it’s all very much Blair Witch-y, just from a different perspective.
But while that film had an ending that might have just disappointed some (i.e. we never know what made Heather fall), this one just goes completely off the rails, ending on what I assume is just a hallucination in the mind of the main character, the obsessed truth-seeker who looks like Dane Cook. I didn’t care if we got all the answers, but I sure as hell wanted to at least know what was going on at the end. And it certainly would have been nice to have some wrap-up text – “their bodies were never found”, or whatever. If you’re going to do the whole “This is based on a true story” thing, you have to stay committed to that idea. Instead, our main character finds himself in some sort of metaphysical movie theater, confused out of his mind. And then bang, roll credits. WTF?
And it’s a shame, because with a good ending this could have been a minor gem. I liked most of the characters, and screenwriter/directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton effectively gave them all different ways of going nuts – one reverts to an almost child-like state, one basically gets high, another goes batshit insane and tears his sister’s leg off... but all from the same external cause (the endless music that they hear as they get closer to their goal, plus basic panic as they get further lost/low on supplies).
I also enjoyed the medic of the group’s manner of keeping track of their mental state, by asking them basic questions every morning (“What is your full name?” “Speak in gibberish until I say stop”, etc). They could have done a bit more with it, the one big turning point moment is when one of them has trouble saying the alphabet backwards, which, for a lot of folks under normal circumstances, isn’t easy (I, however, can do it flawlessly!). The “gibberish” question could have had a cooler payoff, I think. But it’s still a good running “gag” of sorts, and is one of the better uses of the “character in movie is making a movie” premise.
If they go back and make a better ending (or even just cut the movie theater crap out entirely – there’s a shot of the hero crawling towards his goal – it would have been much more effective to let him crawl out of frame and end it there), I could see this being a cult favorite of sorts. It’s been a while since there has been a Blair Witch style movie (style plot-wise, not how it was made – we’ve had too many of those, actually), and I was in the mood for one. The unknown actors are pretty good, the story is interesting, and it has minor doses of unexpected humor (their reactions to a broken GPS are pretty hilarious). And again, it has a guy tearing someone’s leg off. So, worth a look.
What say you?