Toad Road is an urban legend of American folklore, about a road in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, where the Seven Gates of Hell are said to reside in a wooded area. If one passes through all seven gates, they are said to enter Hell itself. In Jason Bankers movie Toad Road, it serves as a metaphor for the plight of drug addiction for a young group of friends. It follows a group of slackers (played by a group of real life friends the director found on Myspace) as they float through life bored and without purpose; they spend their days and nights abusing alcohol and drugs without any signs of direction apart from down. When James meets Sara, he tries to warn her of the side effects of drugs and the life she’s getting herself into, but Sara disregards his warnings and becomes addicted and obsessed with embarking on a journey through Toad Road to find Hell; to Sara, she believes finding Hell would equal peace and sanctuary, and after persuading James and the gang, they drop acid and set out on the road. As they pass through each gate, the lines between reality and what’s in their minds become a blur as months go by.
The lead actress, Sara Anne Jones, who played the titular character of the same name died of a drug overdose shortly after the film was complete; the characters here play authentic versions of themselves, molded to fit the story. The scenes of drug use are 100% real, as are their interactions. It’s a loose documentary in a way, but Bankers still manages to create a story and narrative that’s coherent and raw.
The journey into Hell is a variety of things: the first is the physical place they set out to find at the end of the road; another Sara’s nihilistic goal to either find something greater, or the peace of escaping the world she knows. The third is the downward spiral into the self-destruction brought on by addiction; Sara describes each gate through narration and the feelings of guilt, shame and hope they bestow on her. It’s a surreal fairytale about seeking something otherworldly, but ultimately finding death: a metaphor for how drugs are a quest for a transcendental high at the risk of a harrowing reality.
Toad Road is hallucinogenic and it gets more surreal as it progresses; reality and fantasy become one; the supernatural and reality are too vague to differentiate. In summary: it’s a mind fuck. The story plays out like a documentary, a mumblecore drama and a campfire fairytale, but it’s a movie that’s more about the message – which is the dangers of drug addiction without being preachy.
This is one of the most haunting, harrowing and honest movies you’ll ever see, but it’s not for everyone. The actors involved were a real group of friends doing real drugs in the movie, yet director Jason Banker managed to mold their real personas into autobiographical characters to create a fairytale about self-destruction and a journey to find something better and otherworldly. It’s a strange movie, it’s nihilistic and it’s an essential document of disenchanted youth culture. 9/10
Written & Directed By:
James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitley Higuera