Supernatural horror film The Toybox was released earlier this week after a screening earlier in 2018 at the Texas Frightmare Weekend. Admittedly, I knew little about this movie aside from its two principal actors – Denise Richards and Mischa Barton. Now when I sit down write a review, it’s never my intent to be unnecessarily mean-spirited. I appreciate the passion and good intentions of creators. Yet I also want readers to know why I may like or dislike a particular film. In the case of The Toybox, it’s difficult to talk about any merits of the movie without making some rather frank observations. Spoiler Alert: This is a bad movie.
Recently widowed grandfather, Charles (Greg Violand), plans a trip in his new RV to bring his estranged family together again. Eldest son, Steve (Jeff Denton) and wife Jennifer (Denise Richards) agree to join him, along with their daughter, Mary. N’er-do-well son Jay (Brian Nagel) reluctantly gives in as well. Along the way, the family happens across brother and sister, Samantha and Mark, whose car has broken down. As they drive deeper into the isolated desert, the RV seems to lose control on its own and strands its passengers. Soon the family and their new passengers begin seeing awful visions of past crimes that may have been committed in the RV.
The Toybox Teases With Early Glimmers of Potential
Across its opening 10 minutes, The Toybox teases the audience with some glimmers of potential. A brief prologue offers a simple but effective jump scare that sets the stage. The opening prologue flashes haunting images across the screen that offer an ominous warning about what may be coming. Even when the low budget rears its head, director Tom Nagel still delivers some creepy images. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t make good movies.
An Out-of-Control RV Crashing Into Unintentional Laughs
By the time The Toybox mercifully ends, you’ll have a hard time remembering all that early potential. An unholy trinity of factors come together to drag The Toybox into unintentional laughs. First, all of the performances are extremely weak. None of the male cast members effectively convey any kind of emotion. While Denise Richards was never confused with Meryl Streep early in her career, she is surprisingly terrible in The Toybox. It’s not a good sign when a scene should elicit sadness and instead prompts snickers. That’s the kind of performance Richards delivers. Simply put, The Toybox will have fans thinking fondly of Wild Things and Valentine. Arguably, Mischa Barton gives the best performance. Let that sink in for a minute or so.
A Screenplay Littered With Bad Dialogue and Illogical Characters
Second, The Toybox’s screenplay, which somehow is credited to four people, offers an inexplicably bad imitation of how real people behave. There are several head-shaking moments spread across the story. Characters behave in ways completely at odds with how people would react, rational or otherwise, in similar situations. At the halfway point of the movie, following a heartbreaking tragedy, parents Steve and Jennifer respond in an almost inexplicably bizarre manner. As a result, you’re more likely to laugh than feel any grief. It’s like Siri or Amazon’s Alexa tried writing how they think real people might act. Later in the movie, characters decide that the best time to have a heartfelt family conversation is in the midst of danger. Brain dead dialogue induces only serves to elicit more groans.
Poorly Paced Action Makes The Toybox Feel Like a Real Family Vacation
Lastly, The Toybox is a poorly paced film that long overstays its welcome. Director Jeff Denton is unable to generate any sense of momentum. A bad thing happens, followed by 10 minutes of nothing. Another bad thing happens, which begets 15 minutes or so of directionless storytelling. Once The Toybox unveils its supernatural killer, Robert Gunthry, any hopes of sustained fear are lost. While Gunthry is chilling in small doses, he mostly looks and sounds ridiculous when he is fully unleashed. Perhaps sensing how far off the rails his movie has fallen, Denton throws in some gore that just feels unnecessary.
The Toybox Has Little To Recommend
Two specific moments near the end of The Toybox provide a pretty good summary of the overall move. One frustrated characters refers to the possessed RV as ‘The Shitbox’, which would probably make a better film title. At the climax, Mischa Barton desperately struggles to escape the RV, which feels a bit like a metaphor for what The Toybox represents for her career. It’s a movie that liberally borrows elements from better films, including The Hills Have Eyes. Yet as a filmmaker, Denton doesn’t seem to know what to do with the parts. The end result is a bad movie that has little to recommend.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: F