Wherever a group of people foolishly enter the woods in search of a legend, I am there. Well, not there physically, because I do not do bugs and critters - but I am there to watch it all through the voyeuristic prism of video. YellowBrickRoad offers a particularly fascinating premise. As the story goes, back in 1940 the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire left everything behind to travel up a nearby trail that has come to be known as the Yellow Brick Road. Some of their bodies were discovered along the way - some frozen, some slaughtered - but a majority of the Friar townspeople were never heard from again. The only known survivor could contribute nothing more than gibberish. Now, almost seventy years later, an author/photographer has finally gotten his hands on the classified records and organizes a party of investigators to set out from the long-lost trailhead in an attempt to discover what really happened to those who made the walk all those years ago. It sounds fascinating, and it is - for a while, at least. The ultimate question, of course, is how a story like this should end. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were never able to come up with a truly effective answer to this question - and it begins to show about midway through, as the structure of the film begins to break down.
The cast is centered on the husband and wife writing team of Teddy (Michael Laurino) and Melissa Barnes (Anessa Ramsey) and their academic colleague, psychologist Walter Myrick (Alex Draper). For this expedition into the remote woods of New Hampshire, they bring along a tracker, a brother-sister team of map-makers, an intern, and a weird chick they meet at the Friar movie theatre who shows them the trail marker they're completely unable to find on their own. Things start off OK (although I would have thought Walter would have had sense enough not to wear shorts for a trip through the brush), but things start to get weird a couple of days in. Their GPS goes berserk, one dude starts obsessing over a hat he found, and the team begins to hear music. I'm not talking bird song or wind whispering through the trees - I'm talking about big band and other vintage songs being played quite loudly day and night. It's enough to drive you crazy - and that's basically what happens to the group members one by one.
Sure there's some suspense as bad things start happening to these people, but I can't say the isolated environment ever generates the level of creepiness I was expecting. I never really developed an emotional attachment to any of the characters, either. With better character development, maybe I would have had more of an emotional reaction to everyone's intellectual moorings coming undone as the rug of reality was slowly pulled out from underneath their feet. There is one moment well into the film when I thought the story was about to reestablish itself with a really twisted tie to The Wizard of Oz, but that just didn't happen, requiring me to sit patiently as the movie basically unwound itself to the ending, leaving the "why" of the whole story behind in the process.
Despite my dissatisfaction with the ending, I would still recommend YellowBrickRoad to my fellow horror enthusiasts. First-time filmmakers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton show great promise, as they've produced a bond fide original psychological horror film of genuine suspense that doesn't rely on gore or special effects to work itself under your skin. I really wish I could give this film more than three stars, but there are just too many missed opportunities here for me to ignore.