Oh unbounded joy, another low-budget British horror DVD presents itself to me for review. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love watching and reviewing movies, and I am a big advocate of British cinema, but if you’ve ever endured films like “The Witches Hammer” then you’ll excuse me for being a little jaded. “The Toybox” is a title that has made some waves since its release in 2005, most notably winning “Best Foreign Film” at the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival that year. However, I cannot fathom how “The Toybox” was given such an accolade. Sure, it’s a bizarrely humorous little piece with potential cult appeal, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is, in essence, a bad movie.
Let me backtrack a little here: “The Toybox” is certainly not the worst movie I’ve seen, and not as bad as many of the Brit-horrors out there. It just seems to be caught between a tongue-in-cheek spoof and an ultra-weird genre movie. This juxtaposition doesn’t work as well as one would think.
“Toybox” starts off with two East-Anglian country kids reading local folklore tales. Bernice educates her brother Brian on an ancient ghostly outlaw who haunts their area and kills his victims with a meat hook. Or some such. She also informs him that she is the reincarnation of an ancient Anglo-Saxon witch, and possesses similar powers. Fast-forward to about ten years later. Bernice, now in college, is bringing her long-suffering boyfriend Conrad home to meet her family. During this family gathering it becomes apparent that Bernice’s folks are all completely insane: her mother is sexually repressed, her father is completely bored with life, her grandmother is in a state of perpetual bereavement, and her brother Brian is borderline mentally ill. As the days go by in this bizarre gathering, an evil air blows over the house. People start arguing, apparitions of random clowns begin to spring up and Brian’s mental health deteriorates significantly.
By now you’ve probably gathered that “The Toybox” is a little weird in terms of story. However, this distinct weirdness also encompasses the look of the film. For the most part the cinematography is decent, relying heavily on handheld camerawork, myriad colour filters and neon lighting to create a sort of otherworldly feel. And, at times, this pays off, giving the film a bizarre edge. At other times, however, it just makes “Toybox” look like a cheap knock-off of “Heavenly Creatures” and “Rosemary’s Baby”.
In terms of acting, “The Toybox” falls short. While decent performances are turned in by Claudine Spiteri (Bernice) and especially Elliot Jordan (a very convincing, deranged Brian), the majority of the cast display soap-opera quality acting. This is perhaps the reason why “Toybox” at times feels like a warped British soap opera or TV drama.
Although it is unfair to blame the actors solely for this film’s amateurish texture. Some of the blame has to rest on Sedazzari’s script. Ignoring that the dialog is horribly corny (although at times it does hit home) and that the plot is completely predictable (by now most of you will have guessed which family member turns to murder), you’re still left with an undeniable truth: nothing makes any sense. And we’re not talking about being nonsensical in a good, David Lynch sort of way, either.
“The Toybox” contains so many plot holes that listing them all would cause this review to run for page after page. The most obvious one would be the issue of Bernice’s witch-like powers. At the start we are told that she is the reincarnation of a witch, and therefore she possesses supernatural abilities. But later in the movie we discover that she is powerless without an enchanted amulet, one that her grandmother is very possessive of. Therefore, is her grandmother also a witch? We never find out.
Another issue that I have with the script is that it’s unbelievably dumb. One scene in particular, involving a local priest who suspects nefarious activity in Bernice’s household, highlights this. The priest goes to the house, knocks on the door, but finding no response he leaves the scene and returns to his home. He sits down at his computer and observes the famous Edmund Burke quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, which he previously typed on a Microsoft Word document. Upon seeing the quote, he immediately returns to the house for further, more assertive investigation. Did seeing what he had typed not 30 seconds ago fill him with a new sense of purpose? If so, then why the hell was he typing that up when initially he was not living by that philosophy?
My final quibble with “The Toybox” is that it’s hopelessly generic. It’s easy to pick up on the obvious nods to “The Shining” and “Madhouse”, but the film also steals scenes from movies like “Human Traffic” and “The Craft”, including an entire line of dialog from “Pulp Fiction”. I can see that the filmmakers were aiming to homage several movies, but there is a difference between homage and theft due to creative bankruptcy. And despite all its cult charm and wannabe edgy visuals, “The Toybox” is guilty of the latter.
Paolo Sedazzari (director) / Paolo Sedazzari (screenplay)
CAST: Alexander Abadzis … Jake the Midfolker
Russell Barnes … Grandpa Alan
Suzanne Bertish … Madeline Usher
Sara Bispham … Young Berenice
Heather Chasen … Eleanora Usher
Les Dungar … Uncle Reg
Peter Ellis … The Vicar