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  Toll, The Mystery Road
Year: 2020
Director: Michael Nader
Stars: Jordan Hayes, Max Topplin, James McGowan, Rosemary Dunsmore, Thomas L. Colford, Sharon McFarlane, Jana Peck, Jess Brown, Sean Sullivan, Anthony Ulc, Daniel Harroch, Sarah Camacho, Madison Walsh, Pamela McDonald, Katelyn McCulloch
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Spencer (Max Topplin) is an uber driver patrolling on the night shift, scrolling through potential customers when he settles on a young lady, Cami (Jordan Hayes), who needs picked up from the airport. She gets in and makes it clear she is in no mood for small talk, she has suffered a pretty bad flight and just wants to be driven home - which is quite some way away - in peace, so Spencer takes the hint and shuts up as she texts her mother, telling her not incidentally that she thinks her driver is a creep. He does have an uneasy way about him, but after Cami nods off for a while, on waking she realises she is not sure where she is, as she has never taken this route before. Suddenly, a figure is in the middle of the road!

The Toll was directed and written by Michael Nader, not to be confused with the better known actor Michael Nader, star of Beach Party movies in the sixties and Dynasty in the eighties, nope, this was a dedicated horror filmmaker who had been making efforts like this for a while by the point it was released. A Canadian movie, this did not feature any real stars, not even Michael Nader (there was a concept), but rattled along throwing in scenes designed to mess with the two lead characters' heads and with any luck the heads of the audience into the bargain. The budget was low, and they did not have much to spend on special effects, but that gave it a pleasing "in camera" look to contrast it with too many of its peers and contemporaries.

The trouble with that was that as it unfolded, it began to resemble a piece of experimental theatre more than it did a horror movie, with both Cami and Spencer confronted with traumas from their respective pasts the further into the night they got - and the further into the surrounding forest they have been stranded in, to boot. The car's battery has apparently died after it stopped because they thought they hit someone, though the lights are still on (their phones don't work either, in case you were in any doubt this was a horror flick), but as Cami suspects she is a passenger in the vehicle of a serial killer, she is understandably wary of his protestations that he is not responsible for the increasing number of strange happenings around them. There was an interesting dynamic here where the supposed creep may be an innocent and an external force the actual threat.

There then followed a game of back and forth as first Cami, then Spencer, have reason to believe they have something to fear from the other one, until they meet a tractor driver (Rosemary Dunsmore) who tells them they are both victims of The Tollman, a mysterious entity in the forest who wants something significant from them, possibly their lives. It is here the narrative begins to weaken somewhat after a strong, atmospheric opening half hour or so, though the film was so short you may not mind, but there was a lot of invented backstory and contrived premise to The Toll they did not really earn, since it took a lot for granted: an illusion, or set of illusions, the leads were able to see through, yet remaining able to identify when this entity was fooling them. And what he actually wants was too close to cliche to truly satisfy, especially when one character decides to commit to the psychological torture they are enduring, which comes across as a step too far, no matter how much peril they believe they are in. But for all its wobbly plot points, this was well put together on limited resources and very nicely photographed. Music by Torin Borrowdale.

[THE TOLL - Premieres 15 July 2021 ** A Shudder Original Film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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