★ / ★★★★
In 1940, residents of Friar, New Hampshire left all their possessions, with the exception of nice suits and dresses, and hiked along a trail with their friends and families. Some of their bodies were found frozen, others were butchered, while the majority were never found.
Teddy (Michael Laurino) acquires investigation records of the strange incident and hopes to write a book about it. With the help of a movie theater employee, Liv (Laura Heisler), Teddy and his team (Anessa Ramsey, Cassidy Freeman, Clark Freeman, Alex Draper, Tara Giordano, Sam Elmore) are able to find the trail that the doomed residents followed.
“YellowBrickRoad,” written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, has an excellent premise, a genuine curiosity, but it fails to obtain a solid footing in terms of what it wants the audiences to take away from watching it.
It offers some interesting scenes. For instance, I was curious as to why Walter (Draper) interviews his friends on camera and asks them to do strange things like recite the alphabet backwards or speak gibberish until he gives the signal to stop. Later, the curiosity is ameliorated somewhat when an answer is given to us, an answer that makes sense with respect to its own universe.
However, for the majority of the time, the characters are shown as lost lamb, frustrated, or crazy. Its purpose is apparent: the writer-directors wish to show what probably happened to the men, women, and children who met their demise in the woods. It would have been engaging if it was executed with fluctuating levels of mystery, intensity, and horror. Instead, despite the bizarre occurrences, it is one note and boring. The only scene that disrupts the rut is when two characters decide to get high because they pretty much acknowledge that no matter which direction they traverse, they will not find a way out.
Although it is sort of amusing to watch them skip around the woods, it also has a hint of sadness especially with the way it is shot, utilizing bleak colors when some of the characters have given up their will to live. Their instruments inform them that they are in Guam or Australia when they have crosssed no major body of water, they start to develop murderous thoughts, and loud music, which feature popular songs in the 1940s, is heard everywhere for hours on end.
While the material acknowledges that the whole thing might be a case of group hallucination (after all, dangerous berries are prevalent in the wilderness–hallucinogenic in small servings but toxic in large amounts), I observed not a smidgen of effort in putting the scientific method into practice. These people are supposed to be scientists and historians. They want to gather hard evidence, whether it be on paper, camera, or found artifacts, so that they can write a book or publish their findings. Instead of coming off as smart, they simply appear ill-equipped.
“YellowBrickRoad” is an ambitious independent film. Disparate elements designed to pique our interests are there. It is most unfortunate that bridges which allow us to make sense of the elements as a whole are not. The characters want to shed light on the strange event in Friar. But watching the movie is like reading a report with black Sharpie blotting out the most critical information.