Saturday, April 13, 2013

I've Finally Decided My Future Lies Beyond The YELLOWBRICKROAD

America is full of creepy legends.  Tales of curses and mysterious vanishings.  Perhaps one of the most unsettling is the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke.  You know the entire settlement vanishes without a trace and the only clue is the word "Croatoan" carved into a post.  I can vividly remember the icy chills running down my back when I first learned of this in school.  I remember walking home from school with my best friend and discussing what we thought may have happened to the Colonists.  Our minds concocted all sorts of horrifying scenarios.  It was a Friday afternoon and it was overcast and drizzling on our walk home.  I remember this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach that stayed with me long after the school bell rang.  It was an unsettling mystery that I just couldn't get out of my head, and I became addicted to the unexplained.

So what does that have to do with this film?  In a sense, everything.  The film starts in documentary fashion as a narrator informs us, over a series of black and white stills, that one morning in 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire abandoned their town, their homes and their belongings (even their dogs....just tied them up and left them!) and started up a mountain trail.  They just left without any explanation and they did not return.  Search parties found some of the townsfolk dead from exposure.  Some where horrifically murdered and mutilated.  Some were not found at all.  There was one survivor, but he was completely mad and of no use for an explaination.  The mystery of Friar, NH was quietly swept under the rug, so to speak, and life returned to normal.

Flash forward to present day when our protagonist Teddy is searching for answers to the missing Friar residents.  Unclassified documents are released to him by the town and he puts together an expedition in the uncharted wilds of New Hampshire to discover what happened to the townsfolk seventy years before.  They've got the latest and greatest in equipment and they are ready for anything....or so they think.

Once our intrepid explorers get to town, they are confused and angered to discover that the coordinates to the trail that they are given lead them to the town cinema, where they don't get a very warm reception.  Apparently no one in town is very happy that these folks are dredging up the past.  It seems that the trip is over before beginning until Teddy talks to with the popcorn girl.  Apparently her Grandfather used to spent some time in Friar before the incident and he told her stories and he also told her where the trail was.  She will lead the group to the trail if they let her tag along.

Once on the trail, things start to go south pretty quickly as their equipment starts to fail.  In this day and age of constant reliance on our handy technology, this is not a good thing.  Soon, the group starts to hear strange sounds emanating from the forest.  When the sounds first started, I (and the characters) could not quite figure out what I was hearing, but it very quickly becomes focused and it is clear that we are listening to 1940's style pop music.  Which, is quite odd considering that they are about 5 days out from civilization.  The music becomes it's own character and this is the real catalyst for each character's mental unraveling.  

I don't want to ruin this film for you, because it truly is best experienced without knowing too much, but I will tell you this:  You need to go into this movie with an open mind.  It is a slow burn and it does a fantastic job of slowly ratcheting up the creep factor.  By midway through the film, I was incredibly unsettled and it just got more intense from there.  The music is used to fantastic effect and in one scene is almost unbearable.  
This is not a cinema-verite style film, but instead the camera makes you feel like you are one of the expedition and at times wonder if you yourself aren't going mad.

I finished watching this movie about eight hours ago, and I've still got an unsettled feeling lingering from it.  After we finished watching (on Netflix) we decided to toss a comedy in to cleanse our cinematic palette, which I am quite glad we did.  The film is quite haunting and you will mull it around in your head for hours after you've seen it.

Highly recommended.
One last note:  The film brilliantly pays homage to The Wizard of Oz in many ways.  A lot of fun can be had trying to catch all the references.

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