Toad Road: Film Review

Toad Road film still - H 2013
Artsploitation Films

Toad Road film still - H 2013

Don't look for conventional scares in this audacious but aimless micro-budgeted feature.

Drug-addled young people search for the gates to hell in Jason Banker's experimental horror film.

It might be helpful for viewers to be in an altered state themselves before watching Jason Banker’s film which awkwardly blends horror elements into a quasi-documentary portrait of aimless young people endlessly indulging in psychedelic drugs. Winner of several awards at the 2012 Fantasia Film Festival, Toad Road has elements that might intrigue horror fans, but its overall strangeness and dearth of narrative will prove off-putting to mainstream audiences. Whether it achieves minor cult status remains to be seen.

The film revolves around the burgeoning relationship between James (James Davidson), who when first seen is being dragged to a bathroom with his pants and underwear dangling around his ankles by one of his similarly licentious cohorts, and Sara (Sara Anne Jones), a pretty young college student eager for experimentation who has recently joined the group. A terminal slacker being supported by his dad, James spends most of his time dropping acid and ingesting mushrooms when he’s not attending therapy sessions with a shrink.

Although James actually seems to be at the point of at least considering cleaning up his act, Sara is all too eager to embrace her wild side. Much of the film’s running time is taken up with their rambling, drug-addled interactions, occasionally interrupted by archival footage of various authority types discussing the effects of mind-altering drugs.

Much of this is gross to the extreme, whether it’s the friends mindlessly torturing each other by such methods as setting pubic hair on fire or one of them stuffing a condom up his nose and pulling it out through his mouth.

Eventually a narrative of sorts emerges, involving Sara’s curiosity about the urban legend of the nearby Toad Road, a pathway in the woods supposedly containing seven gates leading to hell that can only be experienced by those under the influence. She drags a reluctant James off to look for it, dosing him with LSD along the way. When he wakes up, months have apparently passed, Sara has gone missing, and he’s a suspect in her disappearance.

The micro-budgeted feature co-executive produced by Elijah Wood certainly earns points for its audacious experimentation, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through. Shot over the course of a couple of years, it has a ragged, improvisational quality and obliqueness which strains patience. The film’s most inadvertently haunting element stems from the tragic fact that its young star Jones died of a drug overdose shortly after its premiere.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 18 (Artsploitation Films)

Production: Random Bench Productions, Spectrevision

Cast: James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitleigh Higuera, Jim Driscoll, Damon Johnson

Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Jason Banker

Producrs: Jason Banker, Liz Levine, Adrian Salpeter

Executive producers: Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood

Editor: Jorge Torres-Torres

Composer: Dag Rosenqvist

Not rated, 76 min.