Sunday, May 29, 2011

YellowBrickRoad: Jesse Holland & Andy Mitton's scare fare debuts in the AMC/ BloodyDisgusting/The Collective series

There's a lot good in the new fright flick YELLOWBRICKROAD, receiving its theatrical premiere around the country via the collaborative late-night series from AMC, and The Collective. Full-length first-timers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton do a nice job with their premise, dialog and acting ensemble to create a situation that -- while pretty bizarre and open-ended -- is surprisingly believable and unsettling, all things considered.

Mitton and Holland (shown at left, but don't ask me which is which: beaucoup time spent looking on the web produced no definitive result) begin with a suppo-sed story that happened in 1940, when the entire populace of a small New Hampshire town took a walk and never came back. Today, with the de-classification of some new evidence, a group of young peo-ple set off to follow the trial that the townspeople took. Trouble ensues.

The acting ensemble that the filmmakers have cast does a first-rate job of making each character individual, specific and real, and they play off each other about as well as a filmmaker could wish. Their leader Teddy (played with decreasing strength and increasing confusion by Michael Laurino, above) brings along his wife Melissa (Anessa Ramsey, below, right) and their best friend Walter (Alex Draper, below, left) for comfort and assurance.

A brother/sister team, good with maps and coordinates, charts the progress along the way (these two are played by real-life bro-sis, Clark Freeman, shown at bottom, and Cassidy Freeman), with a small-cheese-but-pleasant law enforcement fellow along for show (Sam Elmore) and, of course, the ever-present "intern" (Tara Giordano). The wild card in the bunch is Liv (a very good Laura Heisler, below), the girl who dispenses popcorn at the local movie theater and begs to come along because, well, she knows certain things. Uh-huh...

As good as is YellowBrickRoad (for awhile), it does sound a bit second-hand, and how could it not, drawing as it does on every-thing from The Wizard of Oz to Blair Witch, Supernova and the recent Deadfall Trail. The filmmakers dispense their surprises well, along with blood and gore (handled with some discretion, thank you) and one truly shocking scene that should leave you gasping. But the movie ought to have been cut by 15 or 20 minutes.

After awhile, it's clear that YBR is leading nowhere that can or will be explained at all fully. This works in some films (such as Vanishing on 7th Street), because they are short, fast and consistently interesting.  Here, interest lags, as (per usual) one by one our cast gets "offed."  And there is simply not enough content here to deserve the 100 minutes of screen time.

That said, the finale is wonderful, using movies in a way that is both called-for and creepy. YBR opens this week, beginning June 1, at AMC theaters around the country.  Click here for screening dates and times -- and then click on Find Your Theater under YELLOWBRICKROAD.

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