The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - THE TOLL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - THE TOLL

the toll review
An Uber driver and his passenger are menaced by a mysterious force on a country road.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Nader

Starring: Jordan Hayes, Max Topplin, James McGowan, Rosemary Dunsmore

the toll poster

As a kid I always got a thrill whenever my family would return home to the city late at night from a day in the country. Looking up through the sunroof of my Dad's car at the tendril-like tree branches passing overhead, my mind would begin to wonder what might happen if the car conked out and we got stuck on one of those spooky roads. I wonder if writer/director Michael Nader had similar experiences on the backroads of Canada as an over-imaginative kid, as his debut feature The Toll plays into just such a fear.

the toll review

Nader opens his film with a close-up of an Uber driver's app. The driver dismisses a pair of potential male passengers before accepting the first woman he comes across. Is he avoiding men for safety reasons (hands up, I probably would), or does he have a more sinister reason for selecting a female passenger?

Said passenger is Cami (Jordan Hayes), who is zonked out after a storm caused her flight to be delayed and land at 3am. Her driver, Spencer (Max Topplin) agrees to take her to her father's place, a long drive out to "the boonies". A motormouth, Spencer can't stop chatting to a disinterested Cami, who eventually pulls the old "I don’t mean to be rude but I really just want to sleep" defence. When she wakes up a bit later and Spencer's conversation becomes a little too intrusive (the sap even invites her out hunting), Cami starts to worry for her safety.

the toll review

Cami gets even more paranoid when Spencer's car breaks down after seemingly hitting a figure who appeared in the road. But there's no fresh roadkill anywhere to be seen. Spencer suggests sitting it out until help arrives, but Cami is convinced this is all part of some sick plot on his part, and so she decides to set off into the night. When the road she follows leads her back in a circle, it seems something very unnatural is going on. Something in the woods seems to be leaving messages for Cami and Spencer, and preying on their distrust of one another.

Even if The Toll were simply a story of two people stuck on a creepy stretch of road late at night, it would make for an effective horror movie. Delivering us relatively few glimpses of just what is messing with Spencer and Cami (a creepy tall figure clad in white), Nader instead mines fear from the unseen. Just what is lurking behind those dimly lit trees at the edge of the road? Anyone who has experienced driving down such a road at night will feel a tingle of terror at Cami and Spencer's predicament.

the toll review

But The Toll is more than simply a reworking of the setup of The Strangers (a movie knowingly referenced in dialogue here). With the dynamic between Cami and Spencer, Nader taps into the increasing mistrust of the other that has caused rifts in western society in recent years. Nader exploits our own instincts to rush to judgement. We might initially write off Spencer as a creepy weirdo or Cami as a stuckup cow, but as Nader reveals the reasons why they might have been targeted by whatever supernatural force is playing with them, we start to feel bad for passing judgement on two people we only superficially know. As the night ticks on, Spencer and Cami realise they might have more in common than they would have ever suspected. Forcing these two disparate figures to work together for their survival is a potent allegory for the truce that needs to be called in our current culture wars if we're to make any progress.

The Toll is on Shudder from July 15th.

2021 movie reviews