Written & Directed by Jason Banker
Starring: James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, and Whitleigh Higuera
A portrait of contemporary youth culture, where the lines between reality and fiction are blurred with often frightening results.
I’m pretty sure I know the target demo for this film. I know as a former heavy metal guitarist in a very busy band, I found myself sitting around a few dozen campfires at 3AM, trying desperately to decide if that tree really morphed into a wacky inflatable flailing tube man..or was it just me? I suppose if you’ve learned about limits, learned about melding with the flowing cosmos; learned what your place in the world really, then you might see the allure and terror of this original and engaging film.
Sara learns about a rumored place called The Seven Gates of Hell, an urban legend that rests inside a local forest for those who dare seek passage into the series of “gates”. My only bitch, and it’s a big bitch, is the amount of time this film spent plumbing the depths of recreational drug use before it latched into gear and started progressing the film. While it was entertaining (and terrifyingly familiar) to see how K-Holed, spun out, tweaked, and wasted these young adults got, it really was a lesson in self-indulgence. Maybe that’s part of the point. Someone ask director, Jason Banker which Monster Magnet album inspired this film. I’m guessing Spine of God; there’s a lot of life lessons in that record.
Sara leads her friend (and professional LSD eater), James into the woods and doses him against his will. While James has a few generic visions and passes out, Sara keeps going; presumably passing each gate as a badge of honor. The rumor is that no one has gotten past the fifth gate. Most party kids describe passing through the gates, which are non-physical by the way, as ethereal. The deeper you go, the signs become more intense. Curiosity leads to a feeling of being watched, furtive forest noises, a loss of time; typical LSD effects. Sara basically vanishes, leaving the world hounding poor James who honestly has no idea what happened to her. The loss of Sara and the experience of the gates are terrifying on their own, but seeing James try to come to terms with what happened is the true terror this film unleashes.
Somewhere in this film there is a lesson and a point. I’ll be damned if I know either, but I like what I like. I’ve been out with my old school friends, actively searching for the hidden secrets of the universe, and believe what you will, but sometimes the collective and altered consciousness is right; there are things past the reality of now. All I have to do is take my headphones off, walk across the brightly lit floor of my office and walk outside into winter. I know the sky didn’t always seem that color blue if you know what I mean. That’s the thing with this film, if you know the likelihood of those Hunter S. Thompson meets Tim Leary moments or you don’t. For some, this film will be skewered as kids-on-drugs-acting-like-idiots, and don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of flaming pubes and Vicks Vap-O-Rub to last six films, but some people will understand this in a way that takes no explanation.
Toad Road is a wandering, acid-soaked horror film, and it’s not for everyone. If you’ve spent any time flat on your back yanking on the Spine of God, you might find this familiar and frightening. I did. Nice work.