Director: Michael Nader
Cast: Jordan Hayes, Max Topplin, James McGowen, Rosemary Dunsmore
Runtime: 1 hr 21 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Horror)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 29 July 2021
Synopsis: It's 1am. An exhausted Cami (JORDAN HAYES) orders a rideshare at the airport. Her driver: Spencer (MAX TOPPLIN), awkward and unsettling. Her destination: Her dad’s place in the middle of nowhere. Along the way, Cami grows increasingly suspicious of Spencer's odd behaviour. But this fear gives way to full-blown terror when their car breaks down on a secluded road. And they both realise they're not alone... There are people moving around the car. Leaving them bizarre messages. Putting up road signs that lead up a dark wooded trail. Suddenly the car comes under attack -- and a rock smashes through the window, attached to a message that warns visitors must “pay the toll.” Soon, Cami and Spencer become aware it's a supernatural force haunting them: the Toll Man, a terrifying presence that creates eerie (and personal) visions of their past and future. Playing off their worst fears. Pitting these two strangers against each other. Until they discover that for either to survive, one of them has to die. Unnerving and suspenseful, THE TOLL explores how we deal with past trauma in our modern age.
The Toll is an indie budgeted supernatural thriller directed and written by Canadian filmmaker Michael Nader. If cheap thrill or The Blair Witch Project is your cup of tea, perhaps you wouldn’t mind paying for the toll.
The story starts with a rideshare driver, Spencer (Max Topplin) swiping through the profiles on his driving app before settling on a pretty lass whom we know as Cami (Jordan Hayes). It’s 1am and Cami is exhausted from the long flight and has no desire indulging in small talk with Spencer. From the initial outlook, Spencer is either a serial killer in disguise or a socially awkward personnel. Anyway, Cami’s destination is her dad’s ranch which is situated in an isolated part of the country.
Cami wanted him to turn left but according to his GPS, it’s supposed to be right. Before long, Spencer’s car stalls in the middle of the woods. Now they are stuck in a place without phone signal and a car that can’t move. Since Spencer might be a psychopath, Cami decides to follow the road in search of rescue only ending up back in the same old spot. It becomes clear immediately that something is right off. Is Spencer the serial killer up to his tricks or is there something sinister lurking in the woods?
No worries because Cami and Spencer has the fortune to meet a lady driving a tractor in the middle of the night who told them “The Toll Man” is out looking for blood. Must be a common thing to drive a tractor at this time. Well, in this case we are informed that both of them are stuck in a dimension in which they are unable to leave unless one of them is dead. A nice brief plot exposition to enlighten us about their poor plight.
Rather than real tension and scares, The Toll relies heavily on loud noises to jolt the audiences. The story by Nader can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a ghostly flick or a psychological thriller as we follows Spencer and Cami running through the dark woods armed with nothing except Spencer’s crossbow. There’s zilch buildup nor is there a compelling story to bring the characters forward.
At the end of the day, Nader throws in hallucinations in the form of Spencer and Cami’s parents and recreating their childhood traumas and other forms of incidents including sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy and abuse. It’s more legitimate if we know more about Spencer and Cami beforehand but alas, we knew so little of the our main characters to develop any empathy for them.
As a supernatural flick, The Toll fails miserably because the so-called evil entity otherwise known as Toll Man is so shy in manifesting itself to the victims. In the end, we only had glimpses of it. Frankly, it also fails to generate any suspense or horror. Creepy music don’t really count. The Toll functions more like a discarded Stephen King short story. There’s clearly a decent low-budget horror hiding somewhere but Nader tries hard to play smart with the scripting that in the end it wastes the efforts of the two leads and our ticket money.
(The Toll is an inadequate, flat horror flick)
Review by Linus Tee