Thursday, July 21, 2022

YellowBrickRoad (2010) (Updated Special Edition Blu-ray Review)

 Updated Special Edition Blu-ray

Label: Lightyear Entertainment 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 100 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and PCM 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Andy Mitton, Jesse Holland
Cast: Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey, Laura Heisler, Clark Freeman, Lee Wilkof, Alex Draper, Sam Elmore, Tara Giordano

YellowBrickRoad (2010) could easily be lumped in with the myriad post-Blair Witch Project movies with young people filming themselves while sleuthing some weird local legend in the deep woods, you feel it from the start, but that is not all it sets out to be, there's more to it and it manages to rise above the usual "lumped-in with..." categorization with some truly eerie and disorienting touches that set it apart. In it a group of twenty-something adventures seeking new material to document are researching the bizarre case of a mass disappearance from the year 1940, when after a screening of the beloved fantasy epic The Wizard of Oz, the 500+ inhabitants of the town of Friar, New Hampshire inexplicably set out on a path into the forest with only the clothes on their back, venturing deep into the wilderness, never to be seen again - save for a lone survivor,  man who told a tale of madness and death before slipping deeper into insanity. 

Now, seventy years later this intrepid group of adventurers, made up of history professors, documentary filmmakers and psychologists, set out to find that long forgotten forest path to follow in their footsteps and to write a book about it. We have team leader and author Teddy (Michael Laurino), his wife and co-author Melissa (Anessa Ramsey, The Signal), psychologist Walter (Alex Draper, Mimic 2), sibling map maker duo Daryl (Clark Freeman, Narcos: Mexico) and Erin Luger (Cassidy Freeman, TV's Smallville), forest service guide Cy (Sam Elmore), plus a Teddy and Melissa's intern Jill (Tara Giordano). Arriving in Friar they find the locals are wary to speak of the incident, much less give them directions to the lost trailhead. However, while visiting the cinema local, the same one that screened the Wizard of Oz, they meet a young woman named Liv (Laura Heisler, TV's The Americans) who says she knows how to find the trail, but insists on joining the documentary expedition.

Welcoming her to the group they set off on an adventure, but soon find their GPS and navigation equipment begins malfunctioning, causing them to become hopelessly lost in the woods. As the days wear on tensions begin to strain the group dynamic, which worsens as they wander ever deeper into the woods. All the while psychologist Walter videotapes brief psychological tests he administers to the group while on the trip, noting along the way a mental decline and increased agitation. Things are made worse by eerie, droning music with no identifiable source that gets under their skin. The volume of the mystery music waxes and wanes, and is only broken by deafening bursts of low end and ultra-high high frequencies that further agitate and disorient the group, with certain members of the group experiencing unusual violent tendencies, some if which they act on, which is heralded by a gruesome when one of the sibling kills the other, it's murder that caught me off guard, its an unhinged and brutal bit of gruesomeness involving leg trauma that was inventive in that I'd never seen anything quite like it. 

Up to this point I thought the film was absolutely magnetic, the slow burn premise was super intriguing, the characters were not just one-dimensional, and the film made the most of it's modest budget with gorgeous northern woods scenery and some interesting writing and character choices. That said, I thought this was a case of a film not being able to sustain the strong set-up, seemingly sputtering on its way to the finish line with what in my opinion is a diminished final leg that was a bit of let down to be honest. Part of that is that the premise is so good, the mystery of the eerie music and madness that envelopes the group is great stuff, it's got a great build up, but where it goes I found rather unsatisfying, and in the end it's only about half of a great movie. Even still, I think the unsettling vibe, the mystery and creativity of it on the whole makes this an undeniable indie gem with some great atmosphere, it just falters in my opinion at the end. 

It's not a bloodbath by any mean, the meat of it is the psychological stuff that is happening, but there are some brief but memorable moments of gore, like the posing of a corpse into a macabre Wizard of Oz-esque scarecrow stand out, as does the aforementioned leg trauma. Separate from the gore there's a creepy deadfall of trees that brought to mind Pet Sematary, that was just a cool visual, as are images of a field of flowers meant to conjure The Wizard of Oz. The sense of menace throughout is pretty great, with the members of the team saying they're also having homicidal thoughts, and  a trippy scene of a couple eating hallucinatory berries, with madness, suicide and neck-snapping shenanigans following. I just wish it could have stuck the landing better and maintained the the vibe and taut direction of the firs two-thirds instead of unspooling so unspectacularly.  

Audio/Video: YellowBrickRoad (2010) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Lightyear Entertainment in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) sourced from a new 2K restoration. This is an updated VFX edition with some effects that were re-done, having never seen the original DVD I cannot say for certain what the differences are but the HD image is pleasing. It looks to have been shot on digital and colors looks quite nice, the green canopy of the forest looks good, there's an inherent softness to some of the digitally shot  imagery but overall this is a very solid and well made micro-budget flick. Audio comes by way of DTS-HS MA 5.1 or PCM 20 stereo, I preferred the more direct stereo track, the surround seemed a but thin to me, though it does enhance the cool sound design. 

We get some cool new extras for this special edition, first up is the 11-min Practical Blood FX on an Indie Budget with the special effects team of guys Blake Myers and Josh Russell, this is video shot during production of the film as they work in a makeshift garage studio creating the gruesome leg prop and some footage of them setting up the scarecrow sequence.  There's a brief appearance by Robert Eggers (director of The Lighthouse) who worked as a costume designer of the film. 

We also get a new 17-min Walking the YellowBrickRoad - Narrated by Production Supervisor/Media Manager Sam Roberts, some fun behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of the film, offering a fly-on-the-wall perspective if the making of an indie film and what that entails. 

On top of that we have over an hour of new video conference platform filmed interviews with the cast and crew. First up is the 7-min Interview with co-Director/Writer Andy Mitton who talks about having a certain amount of  PTS from the making of the movie, how tense it was, but fondly remembering it and the tight-knit movie making family, and how they pulled it together. He also gets into the editing of the film, its distribution, and how polarizing it was fans, noting that it was either loved or hated with no middle ground. 

The 8-min Interview with co-Director/Writer Jesse Holland Holland appears with his dog Watson, giving thanks to those who went above and beyond, including Clark and Cassidy Freeman who not only my acted in it but executive produced it. Others singled put were art department head Joe Varka and novelist Mark Danielewski whose book was an inspiration. He gets into how he and Mitton worked together and divided up the work load, how they balanced each other, and how he enjoyed contributing to the fight choreography, and how much he misses the cast and crew, and looking back at how its been received. 

We also get a 37-min Interview with Actors/Executive producers Clark and Cassidy Freeman who chat about how making the film with the cast and crew felt like summer camp to them, what they learned from the film shoot, what it was like shooting the scarecrow scene, and just fondly remembering the shoot, cast and the comradery they experienced.  The last of the new interviews is a 16-min Interview with Producer Eric Hungerford who starts off with talking about meeting the director through a craigslist add, they're ideas for a very Stephen King inspired story, reading their script and loving the dialogue and characters, and funding that. He also goes into the troubles of microbudget filmmaking compounded by shooting in a remote locations, and a 21-day shoot. Hungerford also gets into the edit, the mistake of submitting a rough cut to a festival, and how it ended up being released by Bloody Disgusting on DVD. 
Archival extras come by way of the Original Directors’ Audio Commentary with Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland from the DVD, plus a 2-min Trailer for the movie. The single-disc release arrives in a clear Elite keepcase with a two-sided non-reversible sleeve of artwork. The front cover artwork looks like a new design to me, I dig it. 

Special Features: 
- NEW! Practical Blood FX on an Indie Budget (11 min)
- NEW! Walking the YellowBrickRoad - Narrated by Production Supervisor/Media Manager Sam Roberts (17 min)
- NEW! Interview with co-Director/Writer Andy Mitton (7 min)
- NEW! Interview with co-Director/Writer Jesse Holland (8 min)
- NEW! Interview with Actors/Executive producers Clark and Cassidy Freeman (37 min)
- NEW! Interview with Producer Eric Hungerford (16 min)
- Original Directors’ Audio Commentary with Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland
-  10th Anniversary Trailer (2 min) HD

Not a perfect film but still quite a mesmerizing indie gem about a group of intrepid adventurers that get more than they bargained for when they head on down the proverbial Yellow Brick Road, only to find madness and death. This is a definite recommend for fans of ill-fated documentarian style stuff like Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast or just lovers of cool indie horror gems. The updated special edition Blu-ray from Lightyear looks and sounds quite nice and the extras are in-depth and pretty terrific.   

Screenshots from the Lightyear Entertainment Blu-ray: 


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