An estranged family take a trip to the desert in their used RV but become stranded and isolated in the scorching terrain. They soon learn their RV holds terrible, haunting secrets, and it starts killing them off one by one.
Every possible cliché imaginable. And with cliché, you can expect everything else to be as shallow as can be.
Steve (screenwriter Jeff Denton), his wife Jennifer (Starship Trooper’s Denise Richards), their daughter Olivia (Malika Michelle), Steve’s brother Jay (producer Brian Nagel) and the brother’s father Charles (Greg Violand) are taking a road trip in Charles’ new (read: very used) RV. Thing is, this behemoth vehicle used to be owned by a serial killer by the name of Robert Gunthry (David Greathouse) – and his evil presence still resides in the vehicle. The family picks up a couple of stranded motorists, Mark (Matt Mercer) and his sister Samantha (The Sixth Sense’s Mischa Barton) – before the RV maniacally jets the group off into the desert, where Gunthry and his historied RV will begin to pick them off, one by one.
Let’s start off with that term “shallow”. Everything from the story, to the horror cliches to the majority of the performances never touch far below the surface.
I had a problem with the editing and timing of many of the scenes. The majority of the film takes place in the middle of the desert, with most scenes inside or right outside the RV. So when someone exits a scene to presumably go into or out of the RV – we cut to another scene which can’t be taking place more than five feet away. The next scene then goes on for – let’s say – three minutes. And in that time, the exiting actor from the previous scene never arrives. And in some instances, that might have saved a life! So we’re expected to believe that it took a character this long to go from five feet outside the RV into the camper’s interior? I lost count at how many times this happened, but it seriously began to grate on my nerves.
And anyone who has previously read through my reviews, will have heard this broken record of a phrase: If these are the kinds of things I’m focusing on (not your characters and their potentially harrowing journey) – your film’s in big trouble.
Performances are mostly superficial, with each actor getting at least one good scene to emote – but that’s about it. Overall, there’s not much forethought or character work going into these line deliveries.
Of course, the character histories are as minimal as can be (“shallow”). For instance, Samantha has a knack for working on cars…
And that’s all we get.
And the flimsy family history between Charles, Steve and Jay is simply painful – and something we’ve heard/seen dozens of times before. And honestly, the revelations of their past don’t serve much purpose in the story. Not to mention, the very odd timing of a family argument/therapy session. Someone’s just died and that’s where they decide to unload their guilt and gripes?
Also, the very basic idea (as well as appearance and mannerisms) behind the serial killer is commonplace in a hundred other films with a serial killer mystery at their center. And I had a hard time buying that this particular RV was so easily out on the market for sale – considering what had happened inside it previously. Real world, folks – real world. We need that real world connection to make any of this plausible.
Based on my last time seeing Mischa Barton’s work (see my review for The Basement), I wasn’t expecting much. But like the rest of the cast, a lot of her performance is phoned in – with the exception of one remarkably emotional and effective scene. I can’t describe it in too much detail, for fear of spoilers, but it’s late in the film and following several back-to-back whammies of violent events. It’s a breakdown for Samantha – and handled absolutely beautifully by Barton. I wish to the heavens that this same level of commitment and raw emotion would have been present in the rest of her performance, or in the performances of her fellow cast-mates.
Again, Denton, Richards and Violand each have approximately one good acting moment during some of the more heightened scenes, but their performances taken as a whole – not at all good.
The locations were lovely – probably not far off the I-15 somewhere between California and Nevada. It’s grand, it’s remote and I was frankly expecting a The Hills Have Eyes rehash (extended family, dog, off-roading in an RV, desert locale – well you get the idea). Actually, a pseudo-revisit with that horror sub-genre would have been more interesting than this supernatural serial killer story. I mean, if you’re going to hit all the cliches, hit the cliches of a more interesting sub-genre – that’s my thought.
And continuing on the topic of “shallow”, the score was technically fine, but it was one of those examples of the music trying too hard to make up for the actual film’s shortcomings. The film was completely void of suspense (one character running away on foot while the RV pursues was simply laughable – an RV has little turn radius, simply jump off to the side for Godssake!), and every single death had a dreadfully obvious set-up – helpfully telegraphed by the score.
I’ve already mentioned some of the poor writing (zero character backgrounds), but some character actions (or inactions) were infuriating. Jennifer sees a weird replay of an earlier event on the RV’s ancient television – but fails to mention it to any other character until perhaps three hours later. And without telling anyone of this totally off-the-wall (potentially important) event, she still puts her child to bed inside the RV, with this knowledge. No. Just no.
Most of the gore effects were well done – notably a run-in between the car’s engine and one character’s arm. And several gunshots worked out quite nicely (bloody, and nice).
Borrowing from the far superior “possessed vehicle” vehicle (yes, I intended that double use), Christine – The Toybox is filled to the brim with bland performances (a few exceptions), the usual serial killer crap and zero characters which we’ll come to root for and love. In other words, not a good time at the movies – and “shallow” is the word of the day, folks.
The Toybox is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on September 18th, 2018.