Review by Sean Boelman
The idea of a rideshare horror movie is something that undeniably would have been intriguing a year ago when it was supposed to debut at the SXSW that never happened, but now it seems like a relic of a distant past. Nevertheless, the supernatural chiller The Toll starts strong with some intriguing world-building, but stumbles when it falls back on more traditional cliches.
The film follows a woman who finds herself mysteriously stranded on a remote road with her awkward and creepy rideshare driver when they discover that they are being stalked by a supernatural presence. It’s a high-concept horror premise that sets up some interesting tension, both between the characters and the ghostly entity and between the characters themselves, but this is largely squandered by a predictable ending.
This is definitely a very nicely-paced horror movie. There are a few scares that are a bit derivative, such as a scene featuring a television monitor that feels like it has been done hundreds of times before. However, there are also some scares that are genuinely interesting in their execution, allowing the film to creep under your skin as a whole.
On the other hand, Nader isn’t able to find his thematic groove so easily. The things that the movie has to say about trust and paranoia are nothing new to the genre and pay off in a way that is ridiculously anticlimactic. And while the end of the second act suggests that this might go somewhere deeper, it pulls back quickly.
Additionally, the character development in the film isn’t very strong. Granted, it is clearly the intention for the audience to be constantly changing their opinion on the characters, but Nader does it to such an extreme extent that it becomes difficult to connect with either of them on an especially deep level.
Yet despite being given tremendously ambiguous roles, Max Toplin and Jordan Hayes manage to pull some legitimately good horror performances out of their turns. Toplin in particular is wonderful, oscillating between the charming and intimidating aspects of the character quite effectively. Hayes’s performance is much less extreme, but still effective.
Nader makes the most out of the largely secluded nature of the location to create an eerie atmosphere. It was an interesting choice not to restrict the movie to exclusively being set in and around the car, but it works (and quite well at that). The woods elements are a bit generic, but Nader compensates for this with above average world-building in the script.
The Toll does unfortunately let itself down in the final third, but for the most part, it’s still an enjoyable and mostly well-done horror flick. For those looking for some spooky escapism, this is a good one to scratch that itch.
The Toll hits theaters and VOD on March 26.