Thriller The Toll from director Ryan Andrew Hooper and writer Matt Redd treads the line between black comedy and action with mostly successful results in this Welsh western. A stoic lead turn from Michael Smiley, laced with some darkly comic undertones, paired with support from Annes Elwy and Iwan Rheon helps elevate The Toll further.
Criminal Brendan (Smiley) is maintaining a low profile as the operator of a remote Welsh tollbooth, however, a chaotic armed robbery and a chance encounter with a figure from his past sends him careering back into criminal life. Local traffic cop Catrin (Elwy) gets on the case, whilst local ne’er-do-well Dom (Rheon) and a female Elvis impersonator get entangled in the action.
There’s a familiarity about this piece which sees a number of eccentrics colliding in chaotic circumstances and writer Matt Redd accentuates these eccentricities to produce a real oddball collision of characters. Brendan is the dry man of few words, police officer Catrin is the wide-eyed by-the-book police newbie, whilst Paul Kaye’s ambulance man Cliff uses his vehicle as a local dogging attraction. There is nothing subtle about The Toll and that does work in its favour – being a no holds barred cacophony of over-the-top violence, criminal entanglements, and madcap personas.
A skilled performance from Annes Elwy adds some emotional conviction to the fold, with the actress balancing the eager cop routine with an emotional backstory regarding her father’s death in a hit and run accident. This does feel like something of an out off place add-on, due to the tone of The Toll largely falling under outlandish and darkly comic prior to this.
There is an enjoyable element watching these oddballs collide and Redd does an impressive job at tying these together and entangling them for dramatic results. There are moments of well-pitched humour in the moments, including Catrin investigating the robbery of the local shop where the English migrant owner notes “Wales is the only place England’s got left” after citing that immigrants took all the jobs in England. Moments poking fun at small town mindsets and closed-off ways of thinking do provoke some successful comic moments. This is also seen in the gang of teen girls robbing the area in the hopes of boosting their Instagram follower count.
Ryan Andrew Hooper’s direction keeps a steady handle on the proceedings capturing the traditional police procedural elements in a competent manner. It feels however like he is clearly having most fun as events veer towards a violent crescendo as the characters become further entangled. Here the director brings in visceral moments of gunfire and gore, turning the sleepy Welsh town into a bloodbath. A supporting role from the late Julian Glover adds a welcome gravitas to these final moments.
For the most part, there’s a solid handle on the tone of The Toll which blends black comedy and thrilling theatrics with a certain efficiency. There is a certain familiarity about its collision of oddball characters and build-up to its final stand-off, but clocking in at just over eighty minutes its a punchy enough ride.