The Toybox DVD Review
Written by Daniel Benson
Released by Brand New Films
Written and directed by Paolo Sedazzari
Directed by Paolo Sedazzari
2005, 83 minutes, Not rated
Claudine Spiteri as Berenice
Elliott Jordan as Brian
Craig Henderson as Conrad
Suzanne Bertish as Madeleine
Heather Chasen as Eleonora
Christopher Terry as Rod
Alexander Abadzis as Jake
Peter Ellis as The Vicar
Berenice (Claudine Spiteri) is a student returning to the family home for Christmas to introduce her new boyfriend, Conrad (Craig Henderson), to her dysfunctional family.
Arriving at the East Anglia home, Conrad meets Berenice’s less-than-friendly brother, Brian (Elliot Jordan), who has all the time in the world for his sister, but little for her boyfriend. Conrad is also subjected to her over-familiar mother (Suzanne Bertish), pompous father (Christopher Terry) and the random ramblings of recently bereaved Grandmother, Eleonora (Heather Chasen).
As children, the siblings had their own fantasies. Berenice liked to spend her time convincing her younger brother that she was a witch. Brian, on the other hand, was fascinated by a mythical journeyman who once roamed the fenlands of Norfolk, brutally murdering weary travellers who crossed his path.
As time ticks slowly by for Conrad, he realises Brian is emotionally dependent on his sister and feels betrayed by her leaving the family unit. Outside the farmhouse, a shadowy figure with a red-eyed dog is closing in. Has the legend of Jake the Midfolker become reality? Or is the threat somewhere closer to the heart of the family?
I had such high hopes for The Toybox. And in some ways, a lot of those hopes were realised. First time director Paolo Sedazzari shows flashes of brilliance with the way he’s put together this film. He has skilfully created an unbearable pressure-cooker atmosphere within the family, and I couldn’t help but feel for poor Conrad — who spends most of his time looking shifty and uncomfortable.
No small wonder, the family is one of the worst anyone could have to spend time with. The characters have their own overbearing idiosyncrasies; Madeleine is a drunk, and more interested in getting Conrad into bed than getting to know him as a potential son-in-law. Roy, the father, pontificates about every last thing, much to the distaste of Madeleine. Eleanor, on the other hand, is mostly quiet and shuffles around the house in the attire of her recently deceased husband.
The cast members bring real depth and rich characterisation to their roles, way beyond the standard I’ve come to expect from low budget cinema. Sedazzari keeps the pace of the movie absolutely frenetic, so it’s never possible to even stop and think, let alone get bored. He also shoots some fantastic outdoor scenes that show the beauty of rural England.
So where does it all go wrong? There’s a strong cast, great scenery, a director who knows what he’s doing, surely it must work?
Well, it would if the story wasn’t so chaotic. While the basic premise of the story is strong, there are so many superfluous elements and back stories, it becomes rather confusing. An evil clown in the bathroom, a mysterious toybox, a glowing amulet, a shady character closing in on the farmhouse, hints at witchcraft, and Grandfather’s ghost milling around the house mean there is too much to distract from what could have been an excellent, straight down the line, psychological horror.
Sedazzari has huge potential. With the right script in his hands he could be an emerging force in British horror. While The Toybox certainly won’t hold him back, it won’t cause the explosion he deserves.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Not rated, as this was a DVD screener only.
Movie – C+
Video – n/a
Sound – n/a
Special Features – n/a
Overall – C+