YellowBrickRoad (2010)

I was just saying that although I truly enjoyed THE INKEEPERS, it didn’t really scare me as much as I wanted it to. On the flip side, here is a movie that I didn’t really care for that somehow freaked me out. YELLOW BRICK ROAD sports an an inviting premise; way back in 1940, the entire town of Friar, New Hampshire got it in their heads to abandon their homes and take to a winding trail in the woods. (The assholes even left their pets behind!) They were all later discovered slaughtered or frozen to death with zero explanation. Now, a group of smarty-pants psychologists and the like decide to follow the trail themselves and see what they can find while documenting their journey. Terrible and frustratingly ambiguous things ensue. YELLOW BRICK ROAD is an oddly fascinating movie especially considering that I hated the way it looked, how it was executed and nearly everybody in it. I’d tell it to go climb a tree outright but the damn movie got under my skin even in the face of all my resistance.

I don’t get it. Tacky effects, inconsistent acting, dishwater visuals, moronic behavior, poor and random use of black and white stills, inexplicable wardrobe choices, you name it and it’s present and accounted for and busily agitating me. Still, if you tried to turn YBR off while I was watching it, I would have chopped your arm off. When it finally slunk away after one last dubious image, I realized that remarkably it had left me with a feeling of dread the size of a Rose Bowl float. I was reminded of one of those terribly done reenactment educational films you’d see in Jr. High School about the winter at Valley Forge but laced with grisly f-ed up imagery achieved on a Goth teenager’s laptop. No matter what, the truth remains, it achieved a level of wrongness that made me cringe.

Here are my excuses for being scared by a movie that I found aesthetically appalling; first of all, getting lost in the woods, as I’ve stated before is a real fear of mine. It’s not so much the disorientation that gets to me but the idea that nature itself is an ominous force that is trying to stomp me out that turns my hair white. (This is where most would cite THE BLAIR WITCH but where I, trying to convince you that I read occasionally, cite “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood.) Secondly, in the course of this movie some dum-dums eat poison berries that make them trip their brains out and that idea is a nightmare to me too thanks to GO ASK ALICE and that urban legend about trick or treaters who were given LSD laced candy and are still hallucinating in a mental asylum to this day. Thirdly, this sneaky movie has that SESSION 9-ish vein running through it where you realize that the space between sanity and madness is the length of one thought. I hate that. Lastly, there’s this whole stagnation thing going on where you feel the exhaustion of being in the same place for so long that you forget there was ever any other place. Basically we’re talking about a cinematic K-hole.

I guess I like this movie more than I’m ready to fully admit. I don’t feel like owning it, or seeing it again or hanging a poster of it on my wall and buying the lunch box but it did sufficiently poke my head. On a base level, I still think horror films are like campfire stories and I’m not sure you have to like every sentence the storyteller utters to be taken to the place that you need to go. I’m going to coin my own phrase and call this a “green light bulb movie” in reference to SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT. There’s no rationale why the middle story in that flawed, shabby anthology wigs me out- it just does. I may never use that term again but a “green light bulb” movie is bigger than the sum of its parts. Dissected it looks like nothing but it makes reference to a bigger horror, a horror of indescribable nonsense, of losing your bearings and slipping into a pit where you disinherit yourself completely. I know some people will probably check this one out (it’s on Netflix Streaming) and think, “What are you talking about?” but that’s a big part of what makes a green light bulb movie so unnerving. Frustratingly, not everybody can see it glow. Then again, maybe I’m just creeped out by old-timey forties music.

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Pinchy (@pinchy)
9 years ago

I know what you mean. Unfortunately for me, the last few minutes negated all of the creepy existential feelings the film had previously imparted on my brain.

Harry (@harry)
9 years ago

I watched this yesterday on the strength of your recommendation, qualified though it was; and yeah, the movie got under my skin too. It put me in mind of two other movies that exceeded my expectations, Shallow Ground and Dead End (right down to the unnecessary nosedive ending of the latter).

What galls me the most about YellowBrickRoad is that I don’t think it would take that much tweaking to make it a really great movie. There’s so much potential in it, so many things that are suggested in a tantalizing way, and most of it just goes to waste. For example, I loved the K-hole aspect you mentioned, but that was only addressed outright twice that I can remember; I would have loved to explore that a little more. And I didn’t get nearly as much as I wanted about what was going on with the original townspeople. (I’ve got to say, as cheesy as I found the ‘scarecrow’ scene in terms of execution, the implications of it really haunted me and posed a lot of provocative questions. I don’t necessarily need those question answered. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded asking more of them. I just wanted something more than I was given…) There were certain scenes and bits of dialogue that I really bought, and that rang true to me; I found what the Intern did after she ate the candy to be really plausible and authentic, for example. So it wouldn’t even have taken a bigger budget to make it a better film; a better script and some more creative approaches to filming would have done the trick. So frustrating!

Still, I don’t watch horror because I expect every movie I see to be a winner all the way through. I watch it for the moments, and sometimes for the gestalt. This worked on both those levels for me, so I’m glad to have watched it. Thanks for posting about it.

knobgobbler (@knobgobbler)
9 years ago

I watched this yesterday as well.
I read about it some time ago… thought it sounded intriguing… then forgot about it.
Such an intriguing setup, so frustratingly close to being… more.
It seems like the idea/script needed longer to percolate before setting out to film… or something.
The gore/violence bits… and the ending… felt like the sort sad capitulations that happen when a project needs to get done and no one has any better ideas. Poor execution painted into a corner by a good concept.
It certainly needed a better cast… the fellow playing the photographer was particularly annoying (but I really like the woman who sold popcorn… she reminded me of Sarah-Jane Redmond).
I’m curious what you mean by ‘inexplicable wardrobe choices’ though…

I think comparing it to The Willows is right on.
It also reminded me a bit of the comics of Junji Ito, such as Uzumaki and The Enigma of Amigara Fault… which feature similar disturbing patterns.

pamela (@pamela)
9 years ago

I watched it yesterday. It kind of bored me at first but then I found myself interested. I was so confused about the end. Did anyone else noticed the similarities to scientology? “The yellow brick road to total freedom” and the questions by the shrink in the movie. The theater. I wonder if scientology influenced the writers at all or if it’s just coincidence? I thought it was an alright movie though. It may not of made a big impression on my mind as I was watching it but it keeps popping back in and making me think, which to me makes it worth taking the time to watch it. Besides, at least it wasn’t a typical backwoods gory just to be gory movie.

Harry (@harry)
9 years ago

Heh, I came back to read the comments to see what anyone else had to say on the movie, because the damned thing’s been bugging me all day! I’m glad I did; it’s a great thing when a mediocre movie can inspire interesting conversation. And now I’m thinking exactly the same thing, Unk, that if the right people watch this movie at the right time, another, better, more satisfying movie could come out of it. The ingredients are all there; they just need to be mixed properly by someone who knows what they’re doing.

OK, now I want cake. I should know better than to start throwing food metaphors around…

Elizabeth Molloy
Elizabeth Molloy (@fb1018412540)
9 years ago

I have to agree with Pinchy – what a letdown; the use of sound, and music in particular, was very atmospheric and gave me goosebumps (an infrequent happening after many, many decades of horror). But the ending just left me flat.

Francene Beck
Francene Beck (@fb631534110)
9 years ago

I wish more of the questions had been answered. It is so frustrating that if they had just tweaked it a little, it could have been great. The music and sound was a great creepy element.