1940: the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire walked up a winding mountain trail, leaving everything behind. 2008: the first official expedition into the wilderness attempts to solve the mystery of the lost citizens of Friar.
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One Morning in New England, 1940, the entire population of Friar New Hampshire - 572 people - walked together up a winding mountain trail and into the wilderness. They left behind their clothes, their money, all of their essentials. Even their dogs were abandoned, tied to posts and left to starve. No One knows why. A search party dispatched by the U.S. Army eventually discovered the remains of nearly 300 of Friar's evacuees. Many had frozen to death. Others were cruelly and mysteriously slaughtered. The bodies of the remaining citizens are still unaccounted for. Over the years, a quiet cover-up operation managed to weave the story of Friar into the stuff of legends and backwoods fairy tales. The town has slowly repopulated, but the vast wilderness is mostly untracked, with the northern-most stretches off limits to local hunters and loggers. In 2008, the coordinates for the "YELLOWBRICKROAD" trail head were declassified. The first official expedition into a dark and twisted wilderness ... Written by
Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland
solid, and managed to stick with me long after I had finished watching it.
Buzz has been flying around about YELLOWBRICKROAD for some time now. Recently, the film was picked up for distribution by the newly formed "Bloody Disgusting Selects" label, and will begin a limited theatrical run on June 1st. The film has been touted as "Blair Witch done right". I'm not so certain that's anything outside of a hit farming quote, but I can see why the two films would be compared. A group of people set off into the woods where something horrible once happen in order to uncover the truth, and publish their findings in a book. Navigation equipment begins to malfunction, mysterious music begins to play from an unknown source, and the crew is wearing down very quickly.
The music that I spoke of before is one of the most important aspects of the film. It's the first indication that there's something very wrong about their surroundings, and you can see the group's mental state deteriorating as the music becomes more and more obnoxious. To be honest, at the half-way point, I was actually beginning to feel quite hostile myself. It was a very effective way to illustrate to the audience, a descent into madness. Just as it fades, you think it may be over, or at the very least the group will find the source, but it kicks back in to an even higher gear. On paper, that may sound a tad gimmicky, but in execution, it flawlessly delivers the filmmaker's desired effect.
This is not a jump-scare thriller, so if you're expecting cheap thrills, you'll be sorely disappointed. This is most certainly a slow burning film. At the 40 minute mark, nothing much had happened outside of character development, and atmospheric tension. For some, this will be a turn-off. But, if you appreciate the ability to invest yourself into the experience, and the characters, this will be a major selling point. When the inevitable begins, it's that much more effective, having built relationships with each character on screen.
There is a moderate amount of violence, but it's not really that type of film. The special effects are highly competent when they're used, and thankfully they're only used when required. Most filmmakers today try and cram as much gore into their film's as possible, as even if it's a weak experience, violence sells equally as well as sex. The deaths that do take place are highly disturbing, but it's mostly in a psychological way. There is one fairly gruesome death, and it happens in such a matter-of-fact sort of way that it sort of punches the collective audience in the gut.
I feel as if writers/directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton deserve a lot of credit here, for many things. In particular, not filming in first-person. Found-footage films are all the rave right now, and this duo could have very easily went that route. It sort of makes YELLOWBRICKROAD the anti Blair Witch Project. A film, similar in nature, with the ability to appeal to the audience that didn't have a positive experience with BWP. At the same time, fans of that film will find much to enjoy about YBR as well.
One factor that will split audiences is the lack of proper closure. Without spoiling too much, chances are if you have questions late into the film, you'll continue to have them after. This worked for me, as I didn't feel insulted as a viewer. I don't enjoy having bits of backstory, and unneeded vocal explanations of what could or could not be happening. It feels unnatural in every film that attempts it. Much is left to viewer interpretation, and in my opinion, it couldn't have worked any other way. There are certainly some things that I would liked to have learned, but I'm okay in it remaining unknown.
One thing that bugged me, and a very major thing at that, was the finale of the film. It felt forced upon my first viewing, though I do plan on watching a second time to see if it has a different effect. To me, the last few frames of the film seem to almost cheapen previous happenings. It's weird, as it didn't actually tarnish the whole experience for me, but it did make me re-think my opinion previous to the scene. It seemed like an unnecessary last minute effort, to rope in the viewers that need some sort of entity to blame things on. I would liked to have been left with that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach that the idea of everything remaining completely unexplained created.
Despite my problems with the ending, I can still recommend YELLOWBRICKROAD with confidence. It reminds me of another one of my favorites of the year so far, Insidious. It had me all throughout the beginning, held my enjoyment through the middle, and then sort of dropped the ball right at the end. Like Insidious though, enough had happened up until that point to leave a lasting scar on my psyche. If it weren't for the questionable tactics near the end, I would say that YBR was near perfect. Even taking that problem into consideration, it's still solid, and managed to stick with me long after I had finished watching it.
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