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VOD Review: Tollbooth

March 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A lone toll booth operator (Michael Smiley) in the middle of Wales has been robbed of his cash, watch and sandwich by a gang of girls wearing balaclavas. When local traffic cop Catrin (Annes Elwy), starts digging into his claims, she starts to discover a criminal past he is trying to hide from.

This is the setup for director Ryan Andrew Hopper’s debut feature Tollbooth, a Welsh dark comedy that plays out as a mix of influences from Quentin Tarantino to Martin McDonagh and the Coen Brothers, but still has enough of its own voice to make it a pretty promising calling card for the filmmaker.

Smiley’s character, who is known to the locals simply as Toll Booth, wears a deadpan expression on his weathered face that belies his organized crime background. And the actor, who has appeared in several of Ben Wheatley’s films, carries the film with a fine darkly comic performance.

Toll Booth is a loner whose past is catching up to him, and Matt Redd’s screenplay employs a fractured narrative approach to tell his story. The film weaves together an eccentric cast of characters that includes an English gangster (Gary Beadle), local tough guy Dom (Iwan Rheon), crooked ambulance driver Cliff (Paul Kaye), as well as female Elvis impersonator Dixie (Evelyn Mok) and her mumbling sidekick Tab (Darren Evans), who speaks in a way that only she can understand.

These disparate story strands can be somewhat hard to keep up with, and the film is a bit too quirky and convoluted for its own good at times, in a way that sort of muddles its message. But Tollbooth is kept mostly enjoyable to watch thanks to its quick pace (it’s a brisk 83 minutes including credits), some sharp dialogue, and a Spaghetti Western-inspired musical score. It’s a fairly entertaining low-budget dark comedy from Wales, with all the drollness and dry humour that we can expect from the region, and a somewhat bittersweet ending.

Tollbooth is now available on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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