Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Toll: A Seriously Wrong Turn

What's the fastest way to get to the Twilight Zone, “The Further” from Insidious, or some other sort of nightmare realm in a horror film? Book an Uber. These days, driving for an app is like skinny-dipping in vintage 1980s slashers, but much less fun. There has already been plenty of ride-share horror before, but screenwriter-director Michael Nader navigates an interesting and macabre detour for genre fans in The Toll, which opens in theaters and on-demand this Friday.

After a rough, long-delayed flight, Cami confirms an airport pick-up from Spencer. She is paranoid about ride-share drivers and he is similarly skittish when it comes to potential customers, so they are already a badly matched pair. Nevertheless, his pressure-of-speech keeps him babbling, while her exhaustion and standoffishness make her sound dismissive. As a result, there is not a lot of rapport there, even before things take a massively sinister turn.

Ominously, Spencer’s GPS takes them down a lonely stretch of road, where the car suddenly dies. No matter how far they walk in either direction, they always end up at his broken-down car again. However, there are sketchy signs pointing towards a detour path, but they warn the “Toll Man” must be paid his due.

Usually, stranded-in-the-woods movies go in a
Wrong Turn, angry locals, slasher kind of direction, but Toll is much more ambitious. We probably never really see the Toll Man, per se, but what he shows us of Cami and Spencer’s subconscious is far scarier than most bogeymen. The nightmare visions and flashbacks he conjures up are impressively rendered and pretty darn intense.

Jordan Hayes and Max Topplin are both very good as the two lost travelers. Their repeated cycles of suspicion and renewed rapprochement could have been problematic, but they make them tense and dramatically credible. It is also worth noting Rosemary Dunsmore outdoes Lin Shaye as an odd bystander, who might hold some answers.

is a wildly creepy movie that goes to some very dark places. It deserved to have its midnight red carpet moment when it was selected for last year’s SXSW, but cast and crew were denied by obvious macro events. Regardless, Nader is still nicely establishing himself as a genre filmmaker to keep an eye on, based on Toll and the aesthetically similar Head Count, which he also wrote. Enthusiastically recommended for horror fans, The Toll releases this Friday (3/26) theatrically (where available) and on-demand.