YELLOW BRICK ROAD has a great premise. In 1940, the entire population of a New England town left behind everything and walked together up a mountain trail into the wilderness. Later, most were found dead–most frozen, some slaughtered–while some were never found. Since then, the town has become repopulated and the coordinates for the Yellow Brick Road trail head have been declassified, tempting a band of people to explore it.
The group is led by an academic and his wife hoping to explore the trail and write a book, and are accompanied by specialists who help the expedition navigate the empty wilderness. The academic is obsessed with the mystery. But solving this mystery carries a heavy price–a sacrifice, if you will–and only the strongest-willed will reach the end.
At first, the film appears to be a BLAIR WITCH ripoff, hoping to convince the viewer that what they are seeing is real, and you almost expect the rest of the film to be “found footage” showing what happened to the expedition. But it’s not at all. It observes a number of classic horror themes but it quickly develops its own personality both raw and polished. You know the expedition will not be greeted with love and rainbows but you don’t know what’s going to happen to each of the characters, and the filmmakers build in an incredible amount of tension effectively using several devices.
Most of the tension focuses on people deteriorating under stress and the influence of an oppressive malevolent presence that we’re not sure is pulling them in, pushing them away or simply punishing them for undertaking this quest–testing them, as it were. As the viewer, you find yourself in a strange empathetic role by wanting them to succeed and yet not trusting anybody. These are good people fighting evil with every step and you sense this internal struggle through good acting and direction. When the story becomes horror, the horror arrives in incredibly violent bursts. The first incident is so sudden and horrible it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
At the end, only the most dedicated followers of the Yellow Brick Road will meet the wizard. The question is what is behind the mystery, and what does it offer those who peek behind the curtain.