You gotta pay the troll toll to get the boy’s hole.
With the world of horror being what it is, every medium and concept is bound to eventually get its own cursed adaptation. That cursed camp, the other cursed camp, the cursed VHS tape, the cursed doll, the cursed house, the cursed 1958 Plymouth Fury, Pazuzu amulet, buttons, mirrors, Facebook conversations, Skype calls, Twitter feeds, wells, horses, Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, and inevitably the cursed sex doll. Actually that one came out in 2003. Given the creepy nature of the concept itself, it was only a matter of time before we got the Uber drive from hell.
The Toll is a Canadian thriller film directed by Michael Nader who also wrote and produced it. Also the stars are the producers too. If you don’t know who Michael Nader is, what are you stupid? He had a special thanks on the 2018 film Searching. You know Searching, the John Cho/Debra Messing film from 2018 where John Cho is searching for his missing daughter played by Michelle La. You remember Michelle La, she played Korean Girl Singer #2 on the Gilmore Girls mini-series. Glad I could catch you up.
Jordan Hayes plays Cami and initially I honestly thought that I was looking at Anna Kendrick’s sister. Cami is visiting her dad in the middle of nowhere and books an Uber ride because it’s three in the morning and she doesn’t want her dad to have to come pick her up. They never use a brand name I don’t think, or if they do it’s fake. Max Topplin plays Spencer, the socially awkward dude that Cami pretty much spends the whole time thinking he’s going to disembowel her with a rusted fork and do the kinds of things to her body you can’t talk about on Nickelodeon. I’m sure this will eventually become a plot point.
The two are driving down a side road when the car breaks down and their phone shuts off. They are in the clutches of an entity called the Toll Man, who traps travelers and doesn’t let them go without paying the toll. What’s the toll? Four dollars and thirty six cents, exact change only, no credit or Venmo. As the story progresses it becomes obvious that not only are the two stuck until they play the game, but that this force is trying to make them not trust each other. But the Toll Man isn’t just a serial killer who murders your face and wears it like a silly hat. He’s also going to teach you a positive lesson about trust, about self-confidence, and about letting go of the past.
And then he’ll probably murder your face.
The Toll is a fantastically written and directed movie, and seems to clearly be a passion project of director Michael Nader. It almost entirely takes place inside and around the car, and it’s basically a bottle movie. I can respect films that offer a unique premise. There is an obviously low budget aesthetic to it likely owing to the low budget, but it’s also a film where the director knows his constraints and doesn’t pull crappy CG. I’m guessing it wasn’t an expensive film.
End result is a film that feels like a casually scrapped episode of Twilight Zone. The Jordan Peele version. Like a scary story told around the campfire, but with more references to sexual assault. Be prepared for Michael Nader to have the flashlight shined right into the camera multiple times like an asshole. There are some tonal inconsistencies and the ending of the film is absolute crap since it’s predictable in the “they wouldn’t seriously end it like this, would they” style.
Overall I would say The Toll is better than average. As a thriller movie it had me interested on where the plot would develop next over the entire 80 minute runtime. Did I mention the movie has an 80 minute runtime? That’s ten minutes less than the perfect length for a middle of the road horror movie.