★★ out of ★★★★★
Hey, even the murderous ghost of a serial killer likes a vacation now and then.
Directed by Tom Nagel.
The Toybox tells the story of a family. A family still fractured by the mother’s passing, but hoping against hope that differences can be set aside and relationships made whole again. It’s a story of hope. It’s a story of forgiveness.
Or, at least, it would be that story if Grandpa Charles hadn’t gone off and bought that P.O.S. RV for their family road trip. This thing has electrical issues, engine trouble, and — oh, yeah — it’s haunted by the ghost of a brutal serial killer. Way to go, Grandpa! I hope you didn’t pay full Kelley Blue Book value for it.
For a movie of this caliber, the acting is actually pretty good. Jeff Denton [TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002)], who had a hand in coming up with the story and also wrote the screenplay, does a great job as Steve, the unluckiest guy ever. He was mostly playing opposite Samantha [Mischa Barton; TV’s The O.C. (2003 – 2006)], who also did a good job as the smartest person in the movie.
The headliner of the movie is, of course, Denise Richards [Starship Troopers (1997)]. The poor lady does a passable job for someone who can barely move her face, but it really fell on her co-stars to carry the film.
As the sophomore directing effort of Tom Nagel, The Toybox does have some decent direction…. but, also, some not-so-decent. I’m not sure whose idea it was for the awkward, Keystone Cops-esque sped up video of Grandpa Charles [Greg Violand; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)] being chased by the RV, but I wouldn’t call it a high point in the movie.
The main problem with this movie is its struggle with suspense. For example, the sudden death of Steve’s brother, Jay [Brian Nagel; Ouija House (2018)], was actually unexpected and surprising (spoiler alert: Jay dies). However, when the movie tries to build suspense, it just can’t… quite… do it. Building suspense is an art form and involves more than just extending the scene until the audience is yelling, “C’mon! Just kill him already!”
Most of The Toybox takes place in the desert and, while the scenery is stark and lovely, the film fails to really capitalize on the sense of isolation. At best, the audience is filled with a sense of drab. Drab colors, drab RV, drab conversations.
In between kills (spoiler alert: other people die), the characters tend to circle back to variations of the “what do we do now?” question. Granted, it’s a valid topic of conversation when you’re stuck in the desert with a haunted recreational vehicle, but listening to people debate it over and over again gets a bit dull.
Having ghosts of the serial killer’s victims pop up once in a while was fun and their special effects were nicely done, but ultimately they were just props that didn’t have much of anything to do with the story.
Overall, The Toybox was a decent effort, but either missed the mark or failed to exploit its potential strengths. For example, use the ghosts of the victims for more than just window dressing. Or here’s an idea, you’ve basically got a haunted house on wheels; go somewhere! If you just take it into the desert and park it, you’ve turned your cool, drivable ghostbox into little more than a single-wide trailer home.
And nobody wants to see a movie about a tiny, haunted single-wide parked by itself in the loneliest trailer park ever.