When I first heard of this film back in 2010, I was totally on board with the plot. An entire town decides to one day leave and walk down a trail called, YellowBrickRoad and are never heard from again? Sounded like a unique premise, one that I knew would lead the characters down a path of insanity and I wanted to watch it happen. It was available (in 2010) on Netflix but was long listed. So I waited patiently until one day it just fell off the list and Netflix didn’t know when they would be getting copies in. Fast forward to a few months ago when Bloody Disgusting picked up the rights to it (and some other films) and was able to distribute it on DVD as well as run-time in select theaters. It dropped on DVD on August 2nd and I have been eagerly awaiting the time when I got to view it myself. Unfortunately, even with it’s great and sometimes well executed ideas, YBR fails due to lack of proper direction in the final act.
YellowBrickRoad is about a town called Frier in New Hampshire, whose 500 and some odd residents decided to leave the comfort of their town in order to go up the mountainside in the 1940’s. They were never heard from again, except for one survivor who came back talking about the death of the town and just being all together incoherent. In 2008 a group of explorers, writers, and professors (along with some woodsmen) go to Frier to see why the town left suddenly and see if there is anything along the YellowBrickRoad that gave them clues about the townsfolk disappearance. As the team progresses farther and farther along, tensions begin to build between the team members. Pretty soon they are all fighting for their lives and the truth on the YellowBrickRoad.
The biggest problem that results in the other soon to mentioned problems would have to deal with the length of the film. At 90 or so minutes, YBR is hampered by the lack of extended narrative. The first hour, which I thoroughly enjoyed, felt rushed with details and not enough time was spent getting to know the town of Frier. Our main protagonist by the name of Teddy, is given all the information of the town and we, the viewer no nothing other than the people going nuts in the forties. Few minutes later he already has a team hired and ready to go. The group only talks to only a few locals and very briefly at that, which felt unfair, given the fact that the movie made a big deal about the new residents of the town.
Even though the first hour feels rushed, I loved it. It was beginning to go places, I was intrigued by the trail and what could possibly be at the end of it. The decay of the group and the slipping into insanity is gradual and believable. There is a turning point that has a moment of extreme brutality, but sadly, that feels to be the climax of the film. Before that, the explorers begin to hear music from the 1940’s and it plays all through the mountainside, almost deafening them. There is a great juxtaposition between the old-timey music and the acts of brutality that is made me smile in several places during the film.
Then all of a sudden the last half hour of YBR sets in and boy, does it go wrong. For the first hour, you, as the viewer, are interested in the motley crew of individuals and their final outcome. We know they are slipping into insanity but we want to know why. Sadly, the last act feels disjointed. The writers didn’t know where to go, they seemed to run out of all the good material in the beginning (or didn’t expand on it) and felt they needed to split the group up. Suddenly we get shots of people not following the road anymore and talking about things we no longer care about. We want to know what’s at the end of the road, we want to know what happened to all those people. The ending will leave you disgusted and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
It’s a shame really, the acting in the movie is very sincere and the writing up to a point, is compelling. Instead of expanding on all of the mysterious elements (the town, the path, the people) in the beginning, we are shot right out of the gate having a blast until something goes wrong and we are stuck with a sloppy last half hour. I also feel that the material of the film would have made for a better found-footage entry and would have probably been more effective.
All in all, YBR has great intentions and the first hour is worth watching, well, scratch that, the movie is worth a sit through because there are some scenes of true horror and creepiness. It just needed to be a half hour longer so that the writers could actually tell a story and give us a better context. I was really bummed that this wasn’t as good as it could have been, I really wanted to fall in love with YBR. The ending is just ridiculous but I still won’t ruin it for you. YBR just runs and runs until it falls flat on it’s face.