Toad Road (Artsploitation)

Directors - Jason Banker

Cast - James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Jim Driscoll, Scott Rader & Jamie Siebold

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 1

Distributor - Artsploitation

Reviewer - Mike Kenny

Date 01/02/14

The Film

 

Cementing their status as one of the leading forces of unique and independent cinema, Artsploitation Films teams up with Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision to invite viewers down a hallucinatory path.  Toad Road is Artsploitation Films’ first American acquisition, shot on a shoestring budget that feels akin to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project in its execution.  Honest and disturbing, Toad Road sends chills down your spine in unexpected ways that make you wish for the terror to end. The barriers of reality and nightmares become blurred as the characters struggle to navigate in this mixture of urban myth lore and documentary. In order to find out what truly lies on Toad Road, let’s trip out…

 

Toad Road centers on James (James Davidson), a small town druggie in a dead end town that spends the majority of his time taking drugs with his friends and acting belligerent.  Just as James plans to change his lifestyle, new arrival, Sara (the late Sara Anne Jones) joins the posse, and wants him to be her guide in experimenting with drugs.  In addition, Sara becomes fascinated with the local lore of Toad Road, a spot in the forest rumored to be home to the Seven Gates of Hell.  As both their addictions deepen, so does Sara’s obsession with Toad Road.

 

Critics have claimed Toad Road to be a cross between the films of Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) and Larry Clark  (Kids, Bully). The comparison is fairly accurate as Toad Road does a magnificent job in taking local kids and capturing their real-life debauchery and personalities.  Director Jason Banker does a fine job playing a fly on the wall capturing the reality of these young individuals while quietly weaving the narrative of the film. While the cast resides in a sleepy Pennsylvania town with a lack of anything to do, endless drug use seems to be the only recreational activity.  The film never shies away from the almost animal-like fixation the teens have with drugs which immediately sets a disturbing and uncomfortable tone.  A white-trash light shines on the young cast, as does a sadness knowing that these “actors” aren’t straying far from their usual day-to-day lifestyle.  James (James Davidson), a major drug-user in his own right, realizes he needs to get his act together but senses the hopelessness in trying. Sara (Sara Anne Jones) enters his life and the two form a toxic relationship which causes her to expand her drug experimenting horizons with James falling deeper into his own addictions.  The local legend of Toad Road piques Sara’s interest and insists on James being her guide on the nightmarish journey.

 

Make no mistake, Toad Road is a very unconventional horror film that chooses to expose the viewer to the depressing lifestyles of the cast while slowly taking them down a hallucinatory journey that makes you question what’s reality. The experience is as uncomfortable and somber as it is mesmerizing. When Sara commits to uncovering the Seven Gates of Hell on Toad Road, taking hallucinogenic drugs before with James sets the film on a terrifying course. The lines between reality and dreams are severely blurred and nightmarish images haunt James after the excursion. Toad Road concludes leaving much up to the viewer but shaking the uncomfortable feeling from watching the film won’t be easy.  Similar to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, Toad Road can be cited as a cautionary tale about the horrors of addiction and what it does to the mind. The untimely death of star Sara Anne Jones casts yet another haunting light on this already chilling film.  It is difficult to gauge how some will respond to Toad Road, but the film has all the ingredients to be hailed as a highlight of recent independent cinema.  Toad Road is a disturbing and somber tale set against an all too real world with a young cast of locals who bring everything needed to the table.  It certainly might not be for everyone, but Toad Road left me feeling unsettled for days.

RATING: 4/5

 

VIDEO:

Artsploitation Films presents Toad Road in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is true to its source. The film was certainly shot on a budget by utilizing digital cameras that deepen the documentary feel of the film.  Colors appear fine while black levels feel crushed in certain scenes. Toad Road was filmed with an intended look in mind that accomplishes the job, but doesn’t exactly translate to the greatest video presentation.

RATING: 3/5

 

AUDIO:

Toad Road comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix that is sufficient enough making dialogue clear as can be. No noticeable pops or hiccups were noticed on the mix.  Similar to its video presentation, it accomplishes its job just fine.

RATING: 3/5

 

EXTRAS:

 

- Audio Commentary with Director Jason Banker, Stars James Davidson, Jamie Siebold, Scott Radar and Editor/Co-Associate Producer Jorge Torres-Torres

 

- Deleted Scenes

 

- Behind the Scenes Featurette

  • - James Davidson and Sara Anne Jones Audition Video
  •  

    - DUI Story

     

    - Shotgun a Beer Clip

     

    - Trailers

    - 8-page Booklet: Elijah Wood offers an introductory page while Michael Tully provides an essay entitled Blacking Out.

     

    - Reversible Cover

     

    RATING: 4/5

     

OVERALL:

Toad Road might be the most unconventional horror film to come out in recent memory but it does its job making the viewer uncomfortable, disturbed and distorted. The cast of young hopefuls, especially Davidson and the late Jones, do a superb job in playing their roles with a sense of gravity that so many other films miss the mark with. Artsploitation Films does another knockout job presenting such a mesmerizing film with an array of interesting special features.  Toad Road certainly won’t be for everyone but if given the chance, it will hypnotize and leave you feeling uneasy about the road you just treaded down.

RATING: 4/5