All the ingredients are here for the next great horror baddie in the sometimes-haunting, frequently uneven new horror The Toll. It’s a film that hits several familiar genre beats, and strands two unlikable characters on a darkly-lit stretch of road. Aforementioned baddie comes in the shape of The Toll Man. The sinister villain makes a mark, even through some of the more flawed and blatant inconsistencies.
After Cami (Jordan Hayes) orders a ride-share from the airport late into the night, her driver, Spencer (Max Topplin), immediately begins pushing her buttons. As the two travel together toward her destination, Spencer’s car abruptly breaks down. Cami and Spencer become stranded together on this secluded road, where the only way out may be to pay a mysterious toll.
The characters needed more to them—neither of their backstories are all that compelling. Both Jordan Hayes and Max Topplin do a decent job, but I can’t say either of them had me biting my fingernails over their safety. The Toll Man himself is adequately creepy, almost like a souped-up version of the Slender Man. The weird visuals don’t always make sense logically; the Toll Man manipulates reality and makes them hallucinate, so I’ll give them a pass there. Camera movements are too erratic, and made me dizzy on more than one occasion.
The Toll takes a turn in the final act that doesn’t mesh well with what we’ve seen before, or the fight these characters both endured together. It could’ve been much stronger if it veered in a different direction. Director Michael Nader builds dread and suspense well, weaving haunting visuals that paint a vivid picture of The Toll Man. If you want an effective horror-thriller with a group getting stranded on a road in the darkness, try 2003’s Dead End instead. The Toll comes to digital HD on Amazon Video and iTunes on March 26, followed by a Blu-Ray release on March 30th.