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Toll, The


Stars: Michael Smiley, Annes Elwy, Paul Kaye, Steve Oram, Evelyn Mok, Julian Glover, Gwyneth Keyworth, Iwan Rheon

Director: Ryan Andrew Hooper

This quirky Welsh comedy-drama is of the darkest hue: something like an old Ealing comedy with balletically orchestrated violence and lashings of swearing. And it's really rather good.

In a lonely toll booth in the middle of nowhere sits Toll Man (Smiley). Nearly 30 years earlier, he was a big-shot criminal, but a major no-no left him desperate to escape retaliation. 'Some creatures,' he tells the local cop (Elwy) - who's still in mourning for her dad., a hit-and-run victim, and keeps his ashes in her patrol car - 'will do anything to survive.'

Not that he's been idle. In the ensuing time, the seemingly nondescript tollkeeper has built up an empire of protection and smuggling rackets and any other pie he can get his crooked fingers in. And he has a string of slightly amateurish enforcers ready to keep the locals in line.

One day, however, it all starts to unravel. By chance, he's recognised by a passing stranger who proves to be an old associate. At the same time, he's robbed - 'they even took my sandwich' he complains - by masked girl triplets. After he's put a 'hit' out on them, the girls save him the trouble by crashing their car - and their redneck-style family vows vengeance.

He's also assailed by 'wild west' Dixie (Mok) and her gurning sidekick, whom he wouldn't trust as far as the barrier by his booth. So three hell-bent factions converge on the toll site, and you can bet your last leek the ground will be carpeted with more corpses at the end than in the last act of Hamlet.

The versatile Smiley is perfectly lethal and laidback at the same time, but the pace is a bit stately here and there, surprising in such a relatively short film. It's a nice conceit, though, and well rounded off at the end.

David Quinlan

UK (Wales) 2021. UK Distributor: Signature. Colour by Dragon.
83 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 23 Aug 2021