Color, 2012, 76m.
Directed by Jason Banker
Starring Sara Anne Jones, James Davidson Artsploitation (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
Promoted as a horror film but virtually impossible to classify in any traditional sense, Toad Road draws a fascinating line in the sand between reality and fictional narrative filmmaking -- and then proceeds to wipe it
s foot all over it. You know you're in for something outside the box from the opening minutes when a dreamlike prologue in the woods suddenly segues into a protracted look at a group of drug-addled kids passing the time lighting farts and playing gay chicken. The fact that the non-actors were getting wasted for real will be a test for some viewers as it veers uncomfortably close to reality TV exploitation territory in tone, but thankfully the film has much more on its mind as it integrates the participants' real lives into an ambiguously supernatural story of love and wasted potential.
Our protagonists (the word "hero" doesn't really apply here) are James (Davidson), an unemployed partying addict whose father has forced him into mostly unproductive therapy sessions, and Sara (Jones), an inexperienced new inductee into his circle of friends. She's eager to delve into the world of substance abuse while he's growing tired of it, setting up a conflict with their growing relationship. She convinces him that the next step is go down Toad Road, the focal point of a local York, Pennsylvania urban legend and supposedly a path through the seven gateways to hell. However, the end result is a lot closer to Picnic at Hanging Rock than a Fulcian avalanche of killer tarantulas and eyeball pokings.
Definitely unsettling, Toad Road is bound to provoke divisive reactions due to its subject matter and raw handheld video style, which has caused some to tag this as a found footage film even though it technically isn't one. Jones and Davidson are both naturals in front of the camera, which makes the unsimulated drug use harder to take especially when the kids take to some highly unorthodox, painful-looking methods of getting their next high. There's also a truly devastating real stinger at the end of the film that won't be ruined here, but let's just say that one line of text makes this a more effective anti-drug statement than a hundred public service announcements.
Taking yet another unexpected swerve in their pattern of video releases, Artsploitation brings Toad Road to DVD looking about as good as the very rough original source will allow. The film appears to be shot mostly in natural light and varies accordingly, with dialogue also captured as it happened on the set, warts and all. As usual there's a hefty selection of extras including an audio commentary with Davidson, director Jason Banker, actors Jamie Siebold and Scott Rader, and associate producer Jorge Torres-Torres, who talk about the unorthodox production and some of the crazier stories along the way like the execution of a particularly nasty face punch. Also included are some deleted scenes amounting to additional character development between the leads, a rough but fascinating assembly of 13 minutes of behind the scenes footage, a "DUI Story" from one of the supporting players, a beer shotgunning demo from Davidson, audition tapes for the two leads, and bonus Artsploitation trailers for Vanishing Waves, Animals, Clip, and Hemel. Also included is a liner notes booklet with a brief statement by executive producer Elijah Wood (whose SpectreVision Presents line kicked off with this film) and an additional essay by director and HammerToNail.com editor Michael Tully. Not easily forgotten, this is definitely one for all you adventurous viewers out there.