An estranged and recently widowed grandfather purchases a used RV to take one last family road trip with his two sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter to rekindle a broken relationship. On an isolated stretch of desert highway, the family decides to pull over to assist two stranded motorists and offer them a ride to the next town. Suddenly, the RV veers out of control, steering itself to the middle of the dangerously sweltering desert. The group now finds themselves all stranded and alone with a RV that outputs a strange vibe, displaying vividly horrific secrets inside the RV’s enclosure. One-by-one, the RV kills them off and soon they realize that their ride to family fun is no more than a reincarnated recreational vehicle with a long lineage for death and thirsty for new blood.
Fan crushes are a strange phenomena. Once an actor or an actress imprints their image, their voice, or their one-time portrayal of a charismatic character onto you, the unexplainable captivation never releases the firm grip around the psyche. Denise Richards has had a long impression on this reviewer, resulting in a severe case of fan crush. The Illinois actress won my heart as the determinedly beautiful starship pilot Carmen Ibanez in Paul Veerhoven’s “Starship Troopers,” one year before her anticipated and unforgettable champagne popping nude scene in the convoluted thriller “Wild Things.” Twenty years later, Richards, an ageless beauty, co-stars in the Tom Nagel supernatural horror, “The Toybox.” Nagel (“Clowntown”) directs his sophomore film penned by screenwriter Jeff Denton and, together, the pair of filmmakers toy with and present an idea of a detestable serial killer leaving his twisted soul in the under the rusted hood of a his torture chamber, a beat up old RV camper. A killer RV story that sounds to be right up horror-comedy’s alley is actually a rather earnest narrative that has a solid kill count with an innovative, outside the box villain and a no one is safe attitude.
I’ve already mentioned that the goddess Denise Richards co-headlines “The Toybox” and though I have yet to experience her more recent work over the years, “Valentine” was the last horror film that I can recall with Richards in the cast and her role in Nagel’s film as a loving, yet undisciplined mother and wife in “The Toybox” puts her at the opposite spectrum of her roles in the late 90’s/early 2000’s career. Still, the now recently re-married mother of two still has her unrivaled hots and still has her acting chops as a leading lady despite the lack of Hollywood glam and stardom. Her co-star, Mischa Barton, has been an upcoming figure in the b-horror community. “The O.C.” actresses has starred in a string of horror films in recent years such as “The Hoarder,” “L.A. Slasher,” and “Apartment 1303 3D.” Barton tackles a tomboy Samantha whose picked up, along with her brother, by the RV traveling family and while Barton has a fine performance, she doesn’t quite sell the intensity as a final girl. Greg Violand (“The Devil’s Toy Box”), Matt Mercer (“Contracted”), David Greathouse (“Yoga Hosers”), writer Jeff Denton, director Tom Nagel, and introducing Malika Michelle round out of the remaining cast.
“The Toybox” loosely aims to unravel the inner turmoils of the characters mainly focusing around the estranged relationship of the father and his two sons. The trio can’t quite shake the secret inducing uneasiness that boils inside their broken relationship, making a situational cakewalk for the killer RV to pit them against each other as a deranged therapy session to unsheathe their kindred issues. The bickering and the blaming hurts those they love the most around them first, a very relatable and unfortunate circumstance in beyond the sensational borders of movie magic. However, no matter how much movie magic Nagel constructs to gore-out “The Toybox,” a stiflingly story rears an ugly head via undercooked characters pivotal in being the heart of the narrative. Samantha, Barton’s character, has soft, buttery edges that don’t take shape to ultimate purpose for being a focal point and the same can be said for David Greathouse’s serial killer character Robert Gunthry whose RV-inhabiting backstory is whipped swiftly a single anecdote.
Skyline Entertainment and Steel House Productions present Tom Nagel’s “The Toybox” onto Blu-ray home video in high definition 1080p and a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Image is quite sharp despite lacking vivid coloring and going more for a dusty western-horror, exhibiting the rocky arid landscape of the pacific coast. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is nothing to write home about, but offers a clean dialogue track, ample ambience, and balance. Depth’s slightly weak, but won’t hinder the experience. Bonus material on the single layer BD-25 includes a behind the scenes of various takes throughout production, the theatrical trailer, and a feature commentary with cast and crew. “The Toybox” is no child’s plaything. A RV serial killer with the homicidal motivations stemmed from pure evil and, in a fair opinion, only director Tom Nagel could have poised a coherent film without making it out too, for a lack of a better word, campy and that’s not my weird obsession with Denise Richards talking.
Ella suspects her handsome fiance is having an affair and strongly insists on breaking into his outer city storage unit to find proof. Ella’s felonious friend Molly tags along to aid in the break-in, but deep down in the basement level of EEZZEE storage, Ella and Molly release a terrifying secret that’s now running loose and causing a murderous campaign in the maze-like structure of the storage facility. Along with a handful of other unfortunate storage unit renters, Ella finds herself trapped in the facility’s after hours lockdown and in the bloody nightmare path of the Hoarder, who won’t stop seeking to stock his very own unique “collection” back in the belly of the dark basement.
Writer-director Matt Winn’s sophomore feature film “The Hoarder” stars Mischa Barton of “The O.C.” fame and Barton portrays the seemingly suspicious and risk-taker Ella. Barton has been through a string of B-horror and other B-movie films that’s far from more of her previous popular works, yet seeing her name headline a film simply entitled “The Hoarder” feels unexplainably awkward. If you’re not familiar with Mischa Barton, Amy Smart (“Mirrors,” “The Butterfly Effect”) is another one of those relatively known actresses that hang onto the B-horror and Hollywood horror fringe line and not securely rooting a place amongst the two very different planes. But Barton is surrounded by a formidable B-movie cast or an ensemble of television actors to where they’ve received their popularity and recognition. “Prison Break’s” Robert Knepper, “The Tudors” Charlotte Salt, and “The Fall’s” Valene Kane co-star alongside Barton. However, Andrew Buckley, as the EEZZEE storage unit manager, is the most entertaining and interesting character with his non-threatening physique, his deadpan comedy, and sheer intensity when provoked. Even though they’re storage units of talent, collectively the actors don’t play well off each other and don’t share the situation as a whole. Rather, each character tries to go into their own personal demons and not into the evil their neck deep at the current moment.
The Matt Winn script, co-written by Chris Denne and James Handel, and direction are well-paced for timing, are attentively consuming from the beginning to end, and are structured soundly to withstand a pretty good and unexpected finale twist. However, the script doesn’t come without its flaws, developing plot holes through the duration that are not explained well enough to extinguish post-viewing questions. Also, a few of the minor characters needed their story to be explored more to give them more worth. I wanted to care more about the character Willow and her drug addiction and the character Vince and his undisclosed corrupt cop business, but couldn’t quite grasp their backstories and their motivations, leaving Willow and Vince as inessential dust particulars instead of full-bodied hair ball critters that one can’t help by notice. The finale successfully satisfies the B-Horror mold that puts that welcoming final stake into “The Hoarder” of ever being a thought of a Hollywood production. And that’s a solid quality to obtain.
I did expect more of a gory display from special effects supervisor Scott McIntyre. While whatever effects made the film’s final cut were well executed, such as mouths being sewn or stapled shut, much of McIntyre’s talent wasn’t exhibited or perhaps even used. With big time feature credits such as “Enemy at the Gates,” “Mindhunters,” and a more under the radar credit in the more recent “Cockneys Vs Zombies,” “The Hoarder” could have been far more gruesome and unpleasant in a tasteful expo. Aside from the squandering of McIntyre’s talents, the Eben Bolter’s dull cinematography on a well made storage unit set and the Andrew Pearce and Xavier Russell repetitive and cheap soundtrack score blandly conveys menacing “The Hoarder” rightfully deserves.
RLJ Entertainment adds to their collection with the not rated DVD release of “The Hoarder.” Beneath the embossed DVD sleeve and casing, the DVD video quality is comprised of a sleek 2.40:1 widescreen presentation with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. No flaws detected in either audio or video during the 86 minute runtime. Dialogue, soundtrack, and ambient tracks were appropriately balanced and clear and the video quality is sharp with natural skin tones and prevalent ominous yellow and blue hues. The only bonus feature is “The Making of The Hoarder” which consists of the cast and crew reliving their experience on set and how the feature became to be developed. Overall, “The Hoarder” concept has a strong story attraction, but the resulting film can’t seem to fully shake the teeter-totting performances and the sizable plot holes that water down the finer portions of the film.