The idea of a horror movie with connections to The Wizard of Oz is a concept that should have limitless potential. Though it initially seems counterintuitive, there’s plenty of creepy material to mine in Oz. And YellowBrickRoad – anchored by a legend of an entire town gone missing in the woods – feels like something ripe with potential. It was an under-the-radar horror movie that snuck into a film festival or two but failed to snare much of an audience. Those critics who screened and reviewed the movie were split down the middle.
In 1940, the entire town Friar, New Hampshire, walked into the neigbhouring forest along a trail and disappeared without a trace. Years later the government has finally declassified all information on the tragedy including the coordinates of the trail itself. Obsessed with the legend, filmmaker Teddy Barnes assembles a crew to walk the trail and uncover its secrets. But their bid to discover what happened to the people of Friar may lead them to the same fate.
YellowBrickRoad Brims With Potential in Its First Third
On the surface, YellowBrickRoad and its premise shares some DNA with found-footage classic The Blair Witch Project. Both movies revolve around a film crew chasing down a legend into the American wilderness and getting more than they bargained for. Yet that’s where the comparisons end. Writer and directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton kick off their horror movie with a unique premise that shares a connection with The Wizard of Oz that instantly hooks you. And the movie’s prologue – detailing Friar’s disappearance – seemingly capitalizes on this premise.
Writer and directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton kick off their horror movie with a unique premise that shares a connection with The Wizard of Oz that instantly hooks you.
Following some obligatory introductions to our characters, Holland and Mitton appear ready to kick things into gear. It doesn’t take long after our film crew ventures into the woods to unveil the movie’s horror elements. Like The Blair Witch Project, YellowBrickRoad starts with more subtle scares – big band music inexplicably playing throughout the forest. But then Holland and Mitton take their movie in a different direction with a surprising act of visceral violence. Several scenes later YellowBrickRoad includes an absolutely disturbing image – a demented twist on the scarecrow. After a third of the movie passes, despite a lower budget, there’s a wealth of potential on display.
YellowBrickRoad Runs Out of Ideas and Steam Pretty Fast
Yet in spite of all this potential YellowBrickRoad ultimately spins its wheels. Whereas The Blair Witch Project methodically ratcheted up its tension, Holland and Mitton rapidly escalate things and then subsequently fail to capitalize. If there’s a problem with YellowBrickRoad it’s that it runs out of tricks and steam really fast. Nothing about this movie needed more than 90 minutes. As a result, audiences are left with long gaps of nothing or just the same recycled scares from earlier in the movie. Simply put, YellowBrickRoad doesn’t have many more tricks up its sleeve after the big band music kicks in. There’s just too many long pauses in the movie.
If there’s a problem with YellowBrickRoad it’s that it runs out of tricks and steam really fast.
And this brings us to the movie’s bigger problem. That is, the line between ambiguity and underdeveloped story is pretty thin. In spite of all its potential, YellowBrickRoad falls into the latter category. While The Blair Witch Project had a simple premise, it made sure that every scene included bits of story that served the larger purpose of crafting a compelling mythology. Comparatively, Holland and Mitton show no interest in adding to the unique premise they introduce at the start of the movie. They offer no context for their scares and, as a result, the movie ultimately means nothing. Even when it’s final scene feels supremely creepy, the long-term effects are null. Today, we still remember the final scene in The Blair Witch Project in part because of what it means in service of its larger story.
YellowBrickRoad Frustrates With Untapped Potential
Somewhere in YellowBrickRoad is a damn good scary movie. Regardless of some overlap with The Blair Witch Project, the premise of being lost in the woods has plenty left to mine. And YellowBrickRoad boasts a handful of disturbing images. Even if the ending isn’t narratively satisfying, it’s an unsettling scene hinting at the movie’s untapped potential. Too bad ‘untapped’ is the key word. Holland and Mitton introduce a couple of good ideas, but there’s not nearly enough here to sustain more than 90 minutes. Scary moments are sparse and there’s no mythology in which to invest.