Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Into the Woods

YellowBrickRoad (2010, directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Milton) is another horror movie in which a group of researchers follows the footsteps of some mysterious disappearance. In this film, it's a New Hampshire town that up and walked into the great north woods in 1939. Basically, the premise is an excuse to maroon a group of diverse personalities in a kind of microcosm and watch them tear each other to pieces. These kinds of films are often POV found footage films. This one, mercifully, is not.

This is a slow-burn kind of movie. It has a deliberate pace and it withholds its secrets. There's some violence, but the violence isn't the aim here. The aim here is to disorient, to discombobulate, to knock the planks of reason out from under the feet of its characters (and, by proxy, the audience). It's a more polished descendent of The Blair Witch Project and it uses most of that film's toolbox: wrong geographies, sounds in the woods (in this film, an incessant distant music), stupid decisions on the part of characters with diminished capacity for reason. There aren't any monsters in this film, or, rather, the monsters are always on screen. They are the people who wander into the woods. The woods themselves are a kind of crucible that brings out the worst in them. Until the end, that is.

In truth, I can't really differentiate between the characters in this movie, which is a flaw. I had trouble keeping track of the female characters, in part because the casting department has provided a couple of actresses who look very much like each other, and I occasionally lost track of who's who. This really comes to the fore at the end of the movie, when it veers into total mindfuck territory. The nearest reference I have for this film is Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. Both films end with their protagonists sitting in a movie theater, watching a movie derived from what's happened in the plot of the greater movie itself. It's a very meta ending. I'm not entirely sure if it's earned in YellowBrickRoad, but I don't think it's a complete cheat, either, given that it's telegraphed by its early scenes during an awkward encounter in another movie theater. This film has a very specific film reference for a title, too, so there you go.

YellowBrickRoad is beautifully shot. It makes the most of its locations in New Hampshire, squeezing every ounce of menace out of its woods while also basking in the beauty of nature. This is something that it might have missed had it indulged in a first person cinematography. While there is some first person film within a film noodling in the early part of the film, it mostly falls by the wayside late in the film, once the bloodletting begins. I mentioned that this is a slow burn, but once the mayhem begins, it doesn't skimp on it.

What this movie gets exactly right is the disorienting nature of, well, nature. This exists in one of those pocket universes where space doubles back on itself or expands or is otherwise unreliable. This creates an alternate universe in which the microcosm of its interpersonal stories can collide unfettered by any kind of need for naturalism. I wish that the human stories were more compelling, because the filmmakers have provided a gem of a setting for them. Alas.

Current tally: 7 film

First time viewings: 6

From Around the Web

The Reverend Anna Dynamite has glutted herself on movies this past weekend, and she's telling you about some of them today at Dreams in the Bitch House. She finds The Island of Lost Souls to be particularly tasty.

Eric at Expelled Grey Matter finds The Slaughter to be a forgettable mess. Better him than me, I guess.

Tim over at The Other Side braves the "Kate Beckinsale In a Leather Corset" rule for Underworld: Awakening, and lives to tell about it.

Bob at The Eternal Sunshing has another cornucopia of movies for us today, including Prophecy, one of your humble bloginatrix's favorite bad movies, and Demon Seed, which is all kinds of wrong.

DeAnna over at All Things Perfect and Poisonous delves into Thai horror with The Screen at Kamchanod and into the batshit insanity of Andrzej Zulawski's Possession.

Andreas at Pussy Goes Grrr finds that Tim Burton's Dark Shadows was not what he expected.

Dr. AC at Horror 101 has raised almost $300 for his charity thus far, and he's been watching a ton of movies. He's making your humble bloginatrix look bad, but that's just the kind of guy he is.


Ivan said...

Doctor M.,
Thanks for writing this up so thoughtfully. I've had YBR on my Nflix list for a while; I kept waiting for a review from someone whom I trusted--most reviews I've seen bounce between "awesome" and "sux". So while it may not be top-shelf, I now feel like catching up with YBR if anything, for weirdness value.
Good luck with the October Horror-thon!

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Hi, Ivan,

Hopefully, you won't find that you've wasted your time on this. Good luck.