1940. Friar, New Hampshire. The entire population, obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, walks off into the woods. Some are found frozen, some are murdered in grisly fashion, but most vanish entirely. A lone survivor is recorded, terrified and nonsensical. Cut to 2008. An intrepid band of explorers set out on a book-writing expedition: writers Teddy (Michael Laurino) and Melissa (Anessa Ramsey, The Signal, Southbound), mapmakers Daryl (Clark Freeman, We Go On) and Erin (Cassidy Freeman), intern Jill (Tara Giordano), forestry expert Cy (Sam Elmore), psychologist Walter (Alex Draper, The Witch in the Window, Joshua), and local Liv (Laura Heisler, We Go On). Unfortunately, that neck of the woods is less than friendly to intruders, and soon they’re lost and at each others’ throats.
I love a good mystery with my horror, the subgenre “a whole bunch of people disappear without a trace” being one of my faves, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The movie opens quite effectively with audio of the found Friar man, overlaid with eerie black and white photos, and I knew then that, as my notes state, “It’s not crappy!” Neither is it shot found footage style, which it easily could have been. (I prefer objective style.) It does share some plot points with more famous movies, probably the most obvious being the Blair Witch series, but it’s not overly derivative. In fact, it’s quite pleasantly unpredictable. Tension is built up early, and is maintained through to the end. The tone is relentlessly dark, with drab, muted colors. In one scene when Liv produces a bright pink sweater, it’s like the first Technicolor scene in The Wizard of Oz. Supposedly, the cast and crew had nightmares during filming, probably exacerbated by filming on location in the New Hampshire woods.
Normally I complain when there’s no diversity in a movie, but in cases like these, when the characters doom themselves, I don’t mind as much. The male characters are fairly easy to tell apart; they’re all white, but they have distinctive features, like a beard or an obsession with a dirty old hat. The ladies, however, are a bit harder. Let me help you out. Melissa=short blond hair; Jill=long, ginger-colored hair–she looks like an average woman, size-wise; Liv=New Hampshire accent; Erin=long brown hair.
If you judge the movie by its cover, it looks like a forgettable, low-budget snooze. (I can’t remember what made me want to watch it, but it was on my list.) But don’t judge it by the cover, or even the synopsis–it’s awesome. I may be slightly biased because it’s written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, the folks who brought us the wonderful We Go On. BUT Holland is also the guy who brought us the undeniably terrible laugh-a-minute-AT-the-movie-not-WITH-the-movie The Crooked Man (2016). If you decide not to watch YellowBrickRoad, why not give We Go On a try–it has John Glover.