Life is Hell
Jason Banker’s “Toad Road” capitalizes on the word “hell”. Here is a film that deals with the concept of hell and tries to define it. Banker gives us his interpretation of hell and we get a whole new look. Set in an undisclosed countryside somewhere in the northern United States, a group of friends have fun using drugs and alcohol which causes them to have wild although mindless adventures. A new member of the group, Sara (Sara Anne Jones) is a sweet girl from the big city who likes James (James Alexander) and he reciprocates that feeling. Sara finds herself drawn into this drug involved world and loses her innocence and grows a bit too comfortable with the goings on. However what she does and sees is not enough and she looks for something more. She is just barely satisfies by the drugs and drink and she wants to do something more intense, something that will give her a more intense high. She sees the potential for this while cooking with James one evening when he speaks of Toad Road which is not far from where they are. What Toad Road is, we learn, is an eerily comprehensible path in the woods upon which are laid seven wooden gates, each leading a traveler on the road closer and closer to hell. Only they will know what awaits them in hell.
The film is both a horror movie and a social drama. There is an eerie atmosphere and a sense of danger all through the film and this is what gives the film its strength. There is a mood that discomforts and this is done by the two disparate stories that support each other. It is more than just a film about hell—it looks at the lives of troubled youth who have no limits. Sara and James and their drugged up friends constantly push themselves forward to further limits and to more potent drugs with each party they have. It just so happens that they live close to the seven gates to hell. As Sara increases drug usage and the intensity of drugs, she begins experiencing otherworldly sessions. Her hallucinations are intense and assault her as well as the audience and we become part of the film as we watch. Sara does not have a pleasant time and we can assume that this might be due to her using drugs like this for the first time. Something is awry in her hallucinations and is this caused by her mind playing tricks or is what happens related to evil and mysterious forces in the woods that pull her toward the gates of hell?
Something else happens after the psychedelic hallucinations when Sara is compelled to walk along that road. James seems to think that it just might be fun but Sara is not attracted by the idea of fun. She wants to discover what is really there—we do not know if the drugs are playing with her mind or is there something else dragging her to hell. As the film balances drama, horror and mystery, so does the audience. Using the idea that drug addiction can lead to horror is a smart move and it works here because the director makes it work. There is the possibility that some may find to be a bit too surreal, too abstract and too vague but I found it to be excellent. It takes a while to get into it but once we do, we go on quite a trip.
We meet the group of friends who are actually a bit repulsive. They get together to do drugs and just hang out but there does not seem to be anything between them aside from self-destruction and vomiting. James and Sara have a “kind of” romance—he, the experienced one and she, the innocent. It seems a bit sweet but drugs hover over everything. In most movies like this, the innocent girl rescues the druggie boyfriend but not here—she joins him. In fact, Sara is the one who calls the shots.
I am sure that the theme is more about the danger of drugs than it is about the horror elements in the film. Here the guy who has done it all and seen it all begins to think about a life not using with his girlfriend who wants to use. We are reminded about the nature of drug dependence and the horrors that are felt when something goes wrong. Banker gives is a realistic and depressing look at a world where partying takes precedence and what happens when drugs and urban legend collide.
Davidson gives an impressive performance in a demanding role and Jones is just as good as Sara. Her character transitions into the drug culture of her group of friends very quickly, and it changes her from an innocent to a much harder soul very, very fast and she seems to be very much at home with the role. Director Jason Banker is also to be complimented on his excellent job of putting this film together with such realism. This is one of those films that takes a while to think about even after it is over. It questions reality and to me seems to be more of an experience than just a movie and that is a good thing.