Sunday, August 7, 2022

YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010) Blu-ray Review

YellowBrickRoad (2010) d. Jesse Holland / Andy Mitton (USA) (98 min)

“One morning in 1940, the entire population of Friar, New NH, walked north up an unmarked trail into the wilderness. Some were later found frozen to death. Others were mysteriously slaughtered. Most, however, were never found. Among the classified records is [an] audio recording of a lone survivor, conducted at the outset of investigation.” So reads the pre-titles onscreen text, after which it is revealed that in 2008, the coordinates for the “YELLOWBRICKROAD” trailhead have been declassified and investigative photojournalist Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) is eager to explore the legend of Friar. He assembles a team comprised of his wife Melissa (Anessa Ramsey), the brother/sister mapmaking team of Erin and Daryl Luger (Clark and Cassidy Freeman), the Luger’s intrepid intern Jill (Tara Giordano), forestry service rep Cy (Sam Elmore), and behavioral psychologist Walter Myrick (Alex Draper), with a last-minute addition in the form of Friar local Liv (Laura Heisler), and into the woods they go.

The wonderfully simple premise laid out above is so well cultivated, with creepy, organic atmosphere and details to spare (such as The Wizard of Oz being left in the projector when everyone walked), one feels like applauding each passing scene for its chutzpah and execution. The writing/directing team of Holland & Mitton conjure an incredibly rich scenario, then people it with an exemplary array of characters such that the first 60 minutes of this well-crafted yarn were literally spent on the edge of my seat. (The high point is a mid-film gore set-piece aka “the leg scene” that had me squirming and muttering, “Holy crap, ain’t never seen that before... and I’m not sure I needed to.”)

And then….

"Oh, no, here it comes...."

After maintaining “modern classic” strides for its first hour, YBR abruptly runs out of gas, sputtering in narrative circles, leaving us with nothing more than a bunch of folks lost in the woods going crazy, right up until its Hail Mary ending that earns points for gusto and little else. It’s quality crazy, don’t get me wrong, but in the final summation it doesn’t amount to much. (If you’ve ever wanted to watch a non-shaky-cam Blair Witch Project with three times the cast and minus the stellar finale, look no further.)

The creative duo’s risky decision to abstain from a slamdunk resolution to what started out so strong is probably the greatest disappointment (for this viewer, at least), akin to watching a world-class runner blow himself out in the middle stretch, stumbling, meandering, limping, and finally dropping exhausted on the side of the road. The end result is still well worth seeing, but the unrealized potential is wildly frustrating.

Even with that caveat, there is so much worth celebrating here, not least of which being how amazing the film looks on its meager budget, a fact made more evident upon listening to Holland and Mitton’s vintage audio commentary (recorded following the film’s successful festival run and in prep for its initial 2012 DVD release through Bloody Disgusting). They detail the many challenges faced, including the painstaking color correction to alter the bright and optimistic sunlit visuals during the shoot into the twisted and forboding gloom they needed to sell the doom.

The pair re-teamed for the award-winning 2016 effort, We Go On, before Mitton went off on his own to write/direct The Witch in the Window (2018) and The Harbinger (2022), for both of which he also wrote the music and served as editor. This 10th anniversary Blu-ray release brings both back for short but heartfelt interviews reflecting on how special the experience was, as well as the opportunities it created for them.

Others on the tech team deserving of shout-outs are sound designer Daniel Brennan, cinematographer Michael Hardwick, and Josh Russell on special makeup effects. Fun fact: Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse, The Northman), is our costume designer, just five years before making his own big screen directing debut with The VVitch.

With strong performances, especially from Cassidy Freeman (Smallville), Ramsey (The Signal), Laurino (I am Frankie), and Draper (The Witch in the Window), viewers would do well to check this one out afresh or take it out for another spin if you haven’t seen it in a while. It’s not perfect, but it’s pure, and one gets the sense that even with the compromises that come with independent filmmaking, they’ve made the flick they wanted to, knowing full well that their choices might not please everyone, following their collective artistic hearts to the end.


“Practical Blood FX on an Indie Budget” effects reel (11 min)
“Walking the YellowBrickRoad” behind the scenes (17 min)
New interviews with director/writer Andy Mitton (7 min), director/writer Jesse Holland (8 min), actors/executive producers Clark Freeman and Cassidy Freeman (37 min), and producer Eric Hungerford (16 min)
Original Directors’ Commentary with Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland
Theatrical Trailer

One minor (major?) complaint: There are no subtitle options available of any kind.

YellowBrickRoad is available now on Blu-ray from Lightyear Entertainment and can be ordered HERE:


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