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THE TOLL Review- Ambitious, chilling, and deeply personal

James reviews Michael Nader’s upcoming psychological horror- The Toll.



The Toll

Taking a wrong turn has never been more terrifying. Writer/Director Michael Nader makes his directorial debut with Saban Films’ The Toll, a new psychological horror film starring Max Topplin (Suits) as a socially awkward driver and Jordan Hayes (House at the End of the Street) as a weary passenger whose journey together is threatened by an unseen evil.

When Cami orders a taxi service to take her to her father’s country home, she’s hoping for a quiet and uneventful ride. But a wrong turn by Spencer, her chatty driver, results in the car stalling on a dark and remote road. After several threatening and inexplicable occurrences, Cami and Spencer realize they are being watched by an unseen presence that sees them as trespassers, and is ready to exact a deadly toll.

There’s something rather special about The Toll. It stands out to me because it’s an amalgamation of different tropes that are known to the horror genre. The Toll cleverly uses some very traditional tropes to lure audiences into a false sense of security before throwing in a curve ball that takes the film down a completely new route.

At first, The Toll plays on ideas surrounding taxi-services and rather familiar scenarios when faced with a slightly creepy driver. We then take a detour into the world of Blair Witch where we are stranded in a creepy forest that is clearly haunted by some sort of entity. We’re not done yet. We then enter the realm of psychological torture when the fears and memories of Cami and Spencer invade the real world. We complete our journey after taking a sharp U-turn and paying the Toll Man. What does he want? Well, that’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Every decent horror movie has a gruesome death and The Toll is no exception.

What I truly admired about The Toll was that I went in with, what I thought was, a decent idea of what was going to happen. I had watched the trailers and read the provided synopsis countless times. But The Toll is full of surprises that completely diverted my expectations. I was suddenly enveloped by a slight surge of anxiety when I realised that this film was not what I had predicted and the film uses that to its advantage. While gradually building up one potential scenario, we then get a completely new one and it really elevates the tension. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, a new threat arises and the game changes.

Part of me was expecting an intense showdown with the Toll Man. But what’s interesting is that he seems to play a fairly secondary role. They could have fully used this creepy and haunting entity like most horror films. But they don’t. Instead, this entity is used to channel and manipulate arguably one of the scariest aspects of the human condition- memory. Specifically our memory of past traumas. This idea really transforms the film. Not only does it strangely ground the story, but it also makes it an incredibly human story. Especially once you realise that we’re dealing with very real and very severe issues that still haunt society and The Toll handles them very diligently while also making them relevant to the overarching narrative.

As you’d expect, this film has an incredibly small cast. We focus primarily on Cami and Spencer. This is their story. While the Toll Man plays a role, our attention is always on these two characters and their unraveling history. We start off with two rather ordinary characters that are complete strangers. They don’t know each other, just like we don’t know them. Yet, within The Toll we’re able to gain a rather intimate understanding of their character.

With the focus always being on Cami and Spencer, it was important for them to be convincing. For the most part, they were. I was particularly captivated by Max Topplin’s Spencer. They really play around with his character and it was great to see. I won’t dive into it too much, but there’s a level of unpredictability that surrounds his character to begin with. Then I found myself relating to him to a certain degree when it came to his inability to talk to people. My DNA is riddled with anxiety regarding conversations with new people, so I understood Spencer. But, much like the entire film, Spencer is purposely framed in a particular way to subvert our expectations. It makes for a very chilling final act that I really didn’t see coming.

there’s a lot of great stuff to take away from such a unique project like The Toll. In terms of visuals, The Toll plunges you into a terrifying forest that is absolutely haunting and ever changing. It’s brought to life with a series of bizarre set pieces that reflect Cami and Spencer’s inner fears. The entire film is wonderfully sewn together with a chilling and intense soundtrack by Torin Barrowdale. At its core. The Toll has the makings of a decent horror movie, but it goes beyond that by adding some secret ingredients that completely changes the foundation and presents us with an ambitious, chilling, and deeply personal story.

Will you be checking out The Toll? Let us know in the comments. The Toll will be available to watch in Theaters and On Demand on March 26th, 2021. Anyone else afraid of getting lost now? Just us?

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