Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Toad Road: Hell Tripping
seems like there are so many gateways to Hell, people must be accidentally
dropping in all the time. There is that
stairway in Stull, Kansas, the portal in Amityville, and a Hellmouth in
Cleveland (according to Buffy). Supposedly, the Seven Gates of Hell are also
located in York County, Pennsylvania, outside Hellam Township, logically
enough. A slacker and his formerly
together girlfriend will get really high and head out in search of the urban
legend in Jason Banker’s Toad Road (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
is hard to understand why Sara, the studious college student, is attracted to
the seriously under-achieving James, especially when the audience first spies
him. When he passes out dead drunk, his
so-called friends commence with the sort of fun and games we really do not need
to see. Nonetheless, James somehow seduces her into his world of hardcore drug
use and chronic irresponsibility. One
pleasant summer day, they set out to find their kicks on Toad Road, the
mythical forest byway that reportedly leads to the Seven Gates. That sounds like a great idea, provided they
drop acid first.
things get a bit confused as they stagger about the woods. Eventually, James comes to, shivering in
snow. While it only seems like a few
hours have passed, James learns he and Sara have been missing for six months
and he is now the primary suspect in her disappearance.
Toad is billed as a horror movie, the
most terrifying aspect of the film is the state of the current twenty-nothing
generation. In all honesty, Banker
really is not going for traditional genre scares. He is more interested in the druggy, mind-trip
he tries to approximate on-screen. Indeed,
watching Toad gives the sensation of
some rather nasty chemical side-effects.
Still, his use of the Seven Gates mythos is metaphysically unsettling
and frankly quite smart. Toad actually becomes scarier as the
memory unpacks it over time.
Unfortunately, many of the interpersonal scenes of James and his cronies
serve as a vivid reminder of how annoying mumblecore can get.
Toad is almost
guaranteed to inspire a strange cult following, especially in light of the tragic
loss of lead actress Sara Anne Jones at the terribly young age of
twenty-four. Banker’s aesthetic choices
are so hallucinatory it makes it difficult to thoroughly judge the film’s
performances, but Jones had a real presence and never wilted amid his surreal
Banker and his co-cinematographers, Jack McVey
and Jorge Torres-Torres give the picture a distinctive look that is eerily otherworldly
yet still bleak and depressing. This is
the work of a zero-budget auteur, but it does not add up to very much fun. Intriguing and maddening in equal measure, Toad Road is recommended for the most
adventurous ten percent of cult film fandom’s bell curve. It opens tomorrow (10/25) in New York at the
Labels: Horror Movies