It lacks the familiar logo — the giant stylized “W” on its distinctly-angled slab sides.
But there’s no mistaking the metal box on wheels that flashes its lights at a passing kid, then flings open a door to invite him in, into “The TOYBOX!”
Sorry, the all-caps are mine, the title is “The Toybox.”
Just the place, a Winnebago, “grandpa’s new toy,” for an extended family of five Californians, to vacation — a road trip to TERROR.
A father (screenwriter Jeff Denton), his 20something brother (Brian Nagel, the director’s brother), a wife and mom (Denise Richards), a little girl and grandpa (Greg Violand) board the killer RV for a trip.
The “old mare may have a few more starts left in her,” but the AC doesn’t work, most of the windows don’t open. So of course, they’re headed to the desert.
“It’s OK, Olivia. We can watch a little TV.”
“TV doesn’t work.”
When they stumble upon siblings Samantha (Mischa Barton) and Mark (Matt Mercer) broken down on the side of the road, it’s “We can give you a ride.” Because noooo, there aren’t not enough people on board this 31 footer.
‘”Dad! Why are you SPEEDING UP?”
“It’s not me…”
Wrecked, in the desert, with a Winnie who Wants to Whack Us!
We’re going to be out here for days or weeks!
Sam barely has time to get out, “I have a BAD feeling about this” when death and destruction arrive. Mother Jennifer (Richards) sees a bloody ghost on board, and little Olivia (Malika Michelle) is drawing grisly ghouls in crayon.
“There is SOMETHING going on IN THERE!”
No working engine no cell service — because phones are USEless in horror movies — no hope. Or IS there?
Foreshadowing — a knife loose on a dinette table as the RV hurtles out of control, the ominous cooling fan blades as somebody reaches into the engine bay of a motor that doesn’t start, until…
Black water in the tanks, blonde hair clogging the drains, the signs are all here. “The Ring” needs a ring job, “Christine” gave her engine to a new vehicle, or the desert takes no prisoners — something is sure to get them, preferably one by one.
A radio that tunes itself to Radio Music of the Dead (tunes in the public domain, “In the Pines”), ghostly voices in the desert, everybody has horrific visions –sometimes replaying moments with the recently-deceased, “don’t go in there” cabinets that open mysteriously…
“Mommy, can I play with the jump rope?
There’s nobility in work, and while it’s hard to imagine members of this cast tackling an indie horror picture whose chief expense was buying a seventh-hand RV if they had other choices, a few moments work — a death here, paroxysms of grief there.
But for a place with no cell service, there are plenty of people pretty much phoning it in, or simply not having the skills to act in the moment and react convincingly to terror, physical threats or the sudden death of a loved one right in front of you.
The “names” Barton and Richards give something like fair value, but the guys? They seem distracted, especially the two fretting about what they have to do NEXT behind the camera.
It’s an intriguing horror filmmaking exercise — a confined set moved to a deadly location, players inhabiting it as they’re picked off. Bit player turned turned director Brian Nagel (“The Retrieval”) doesn’t do much with it.
“It’s the ONLY thing that makes sense!”
“That makes SENSE to you?”
And “The Toybox” itself, like the movie about it, is never scary, just kind of grim and rusty and dogged. It obeys no “horror” or “ghost” rules and makes less sense the more you think about it.
But Barton plays moments and lines like she means them — “Your HELP got my brother killed!” With this and the similarly low-budget/no-budget “The Basement” earning limited release the same weekend, she doesn’t let on the struggle it is to find decent roles to play once you’re a dozen years beyond “The O.C.”
If only Tarantino would call.
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast:Denise Richards, Mischa Barton, Jeff Denton,Greg Violand
Credits:Directed by Tom Nagel, script by Jeff Denton. An Uncork’d release.
Running time: 1:35