As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Have you ever bought a used vehicle, possibly from the lot or on Craigslist? Maybe you only passed by and saw it on the side of the road with a phone number to call written on the windshield. Have you ever pondered what kind of person owned the car you’re interested in purchasing? This was a question that should’ve been asked in 2018’s The Toybox.
In The Toybox, a family of five travel across the desert in a used RV. Along the way, they pick up two strangers, who are stranded on the side of the road in a broken down car. A little while later, the RV comes to a smoking halt, leaving them stuck in the middle of nowhere like in the classic gory horror flick The Hills Have Eyes. This is when they all start gruesomely dying one by one.As the film begins, we meet a young boy who is out riding his bike late at night. He makes his way past an RV, but stops and turns around when its door magically swings open. Throughout this scene, I was immediately drawn in by the direction of the film, done by Tom Nagel. Every single shot was artistic and well thought out. In addition to this, the music, composed by Holly Amber Church, sets the perfect tone of the scene. It was light and playful when the boy was riding his bicycle, then spine-chilling and suspenseful when he entered and exited the RV.
The script, however, falters here. The kid is dragged back into the death trap when he tries to leave. The headlights and taillights begin to flicker, but it’s more laughable than it is scary. The rest of this scene continues to play out this way. Such wonderful directing and music were quickly ruined by cheesy horror tropes, and that basically sums up the entirety of the film.
The most frustrating part of The Toybox is how the characters deal with their issues. After the first death, they take the body out of the RV, lay it on the dirt, and cover it with a blanket. Only then does someone come up with the idea to see if their vehicle will start. Why wasn’t this the first priority? Why would you be okay with leaving someone behind? Unable to get the RV started, they set up camp for the night and try again in the morning, only to, again, remain unsuccessful in their efforts. Even as more family members die, no one thinks it’s a good idea to go for help. Instead, they sit there waiting for a savior although they’ve veered far from the main road, where help is unlikely. It isn’t until it’s too late and their hands have been forced that they decide to send someone to make the hike back to the highway, so it’s no surprise when this plan falls through.Throughout the film, the characters witness unexplainable events, but never tell anyone about them. Jennifer, a wife and mother who is portrayed by Denise Richards, is in the RV alone when the television mysteriously turns on and plays a clip of something that had happened earlier on in the movie, but with a blood-covered ghost girl no one had noticed before now standing behind the characters. Jennifer lets go of a loud shriek, but when her husband Steve (Jeff Denton) rushes to her, she acts distant and refuses to say what made her so freaked out.
Despite being advertised as a horror flick, this movie relies heavily on mindless deaths and jump scares, neither of which are incredibly frightening. Samantha, played by Mischa Barton, leaves the sanctity of her tent for a quick potty break in the dead of night and sees a figure in the distance. It disappears, then suddenly reappears closer, and we see that it’s the bloody girl that Jennifer had seen creeping behind them on the television earlier. Samantha runs back to her tent, then once again looks around her for the figure she had seen. It appears behind her with blackened eyes and a long, drooping, disfigured mouth. This is by far the cheapest jump scare of the film because it doesn’t make logical sense for the ghost’s appearance to change so drastically. It was solely there for the scare factor, and since it was so expected and also didn’t look that great visually, it only added another reason not to enjoy this movie.If you’ve managed to make it past these issues, as well as the questionable acting and strange, forced dialogue and storytelling, then you’ve reached the ending of the film, which is over in the blink of an eye. Without giving too much away, the remaining survivor is fighting to stay alive. We seem to be at the peak of the protagonist vs. antagonist showdown, but then the scene cuts. Although we can guess what happened, we’re left with dissatisfaction and we feel robbed of the ending we’ve waited an hour and fifteen minutes to see.
Overall, the wonderful direction and score was wasted on a bad script. This isn’t the first film that the crew (made up of Tom Nagel, Brian Nagel, Jeff Miller, and Jeff Denton) have worked together writing, directing, acting in, and producing a project, and I imagine that it’s not the last. I look forward to viewing more from this group and seeing them grow as creators. However, they didn’t reach their full potential with this slasher film.