Brendan (Kill List’s Michael Smiley) is a toll booth operator in a small Welsh town. His quiet and uneventful life is disrupted, however, when a face from his criminal past appears by chance at his stall’s window. Meanwhile, young traffic cop Catrin (Annes Elwy) is called out to a disturbance at a nearby petrol station. Both instances ignite an unforeseen chain of events that set both characters on a collision course in The Toll, the feature debut from Ryan Andrew Hooper.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Fargo, Pulp Fiction and A Fistful of Dollars, the Welsh director’s film delivers in being a viciously entertaining and slyly self-aware thriller complete with a cast of memorably idiosyncratic characters. Though the chronology of the day’s events is purposefully kept vague at first, the fun here is watching how these various threads connect in genuinely surprising ways. Each branching narrative is more joyously absurd than the last (highlights include a pair of hot-headed amateur criminals and a trio of overly enthusiastic robbers) thanks to Matt Redd’s screenplay, which relishes in its quirky take on black humour. While every joke doesn’t land as well as intended, there are more than a few fantastic quips to make up for the occasional dud.
In the centre of it all is Smiley as the quiet-but-gruff antihero. He is as fantastic as ever: his hardened screen persona working brilliantly with the deadpan tone. But it’s Elwy who steals the spotlight in this movie. Her irresistible charm is enough to outshine even her Northern Irish co-star in every scene she’s in. The Welsh actress is an utter delight to watch, and she’s a talent to look out for.
Where this picture lets itself down is with its ending. After demonstrating that the filmmakers are more than capable of effective storytelling, it’s an unfortunate misstep that the conclusion is so rushed, especially when it deals with a mystery that’s been dangling just out of the viewers’ reach for so long.
Although its ending lacks the imagination of the rest of the feature, this Tarantino-esque thriller set in rural Wales is nevertheless well worth one’s attention.
The Toll is released in select cinemas on 27th August 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Toll here: