• Toad Road

    Released by: Artsploitation Films
    Released on: December 17th, 2013.
    Director: Jason Banker
    Cast: Sara Anne Jones, James Davidson
    Year: 2012
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Jason Banker and executive produced by Elijah Wood, 2012’s Toad Road will be written off by many for one reason and one reason alone – it’s a ‘found footage’ film. While it’s obvious that this technique has been done to death in a post Blair Witch Project/Paranormal Activity cinemaverse, Banker proves, as others have before him, that when it’s done well and done for a reason, it can still be a viable story telling technique. To his credit, the director avoids dizzying camera movements and cheap scare tactics here and instead uses the camera’s POV to actually enhance the story. It puts us there for a reason.

    The storyline follows James (James Davidson), a young man who has grown up in a small town and fallen in with a crowd of drug addicts. He and his friends will do any drug they can get their collective hands on. When life is dull, you need that high, that experience, that kick. That’s where these guys are at, they’re dead end kids. This starts to change when a calm, collected ‘good girl’ named Sara (Sara Anne Jones) comes into their scene. She’s led a pretty square life and never tried drugs before. Naturally, as most are at her age, Sara is curious. It’s obvious to her that these guys love what they do, even if it’s just as obvious that it’s an escape tool, and she more or less makes up her mind that she’s going to indulge.

    As Sara is drawn into the scene, James starts to finally hit the wall. He’s growing tired of it and hopes to get more out of life, and yet, he’s obviously falling in love with Sara. The two quickly develop feelings for one another and as she becomes more involved with those he once considered friends, he feels the need to pull her back and keep her from going over the edge. As he does, he slips up and starts using again. Shortly after, James tells Sara about the legend of Toad Road, which is a story that says if you make it to a certain part in the nearby woods, you’ll find access to the Seven Gates Of Hell. Legend has it that as you pass by each one of the gates, you’ll experience something new, though not necessarily positive. When she hears about this, she wants to be the first person to make it through all seven gates…

    Part of what makes Toad Road work is the realism, and part of the realism comes from the fact that a lot of the footage features people using drugs. Not acting, but actually using drugs. As such, the reactions are genuine, the changes they go through believable and their highs and lows legitimate. You never get the impression anyone is hamming it up for the camera and the camera in turn never seems to resort to cheaply exploiting its subjects, it just results in realism. As the story starts to unfold and this becomes more than a movie about twenty-somethings getting high, the ‘horror movie’ that is hiding within becomes more obvious but the film never loses that sense of realism that it starts with. This makes the relationship that develops not just between James and Sara but between the group as a whole feel more developed and as such, the events that take place in the later part of the movie have more impact. It’s as if the story had some really character development in it, except that in a lot of ways it doesn’t: the characters aren’t characters but real people and they developed before the cameras rolled. We feel that the members of this group care for one another, their friendship seems genuine and if it’s their collective habit that keeps them from going their separate ways more than anything else, it at least successfully knits them together – for better or worse (and we see the good and the bad).

    You could call the movie a cautionary tale, a horror movie, or a partial documentary but regardless of labels Toad Road makes for a pretty intense and unsettling watch. The two leads do excellent work, we buy them in their roles and anyone who has ever decided, stoned or otherwise, to go check out the truth behind that urban myth will probably be able to relate to the eeriness that happens later in the movie. The empty woods become not serene or fun, but menacing and scary, full of darkness and the unknown. Banker paces all of this well, he pulls us into the story and keeps us guessing. It never bombards us with earth shattering terror but instead simply unsettles, it makes us uncomfortable simply because it ensures that we can’t look away.


    Toad Road arrives on DVD framed at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. This was shot fast and for little money and it shows, but as mentioned above, the format works well in the context of the story that is being told. There are some minor compression artifacts in some spots but colors look okay. This looks like… modern shot on consumer grade video material because that is exactly what it is.

    The only audio option on the disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and it’s on par with the video. Sometimes it’s a little uneven but it never feels like it’s trying to be something that it’s not. Dialogue is generally very clear and easy to follow and the levels are, most of the time at least, properly balanced.

    Extras start off with a commentary track from Jason Banker, James Davidson, Jamie Siebold, Scott Rader, and Jorge Torres-Torres. This is a pretty revealing track that talks about what’s real in the movie and what isn’t. Shot on location in rural Pennsylvania, there were some logistical issues with the shoot that are covered here as well. It’s an interesting talk with Banker doing most of the talking here but the others all adding their two cents where they feel they need to. Well-paced, interesting and informative, the way a good commentary should be.

    Outside of that, we get a few minutes’ worth of Deleted Scenes, some more interesting than others, and a Behind The Scenes Featurette that offers up some interesting footage and war stories. It’s pretty revelatory as to what really went down on set. There’s some James Davidson and Sara Anne Jones audition footage here for posterity’s sake, and a clip called Shotgun A Beer clip that should be seen rather than explained. Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, trailers for other Artsploitation Films properties, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase is a full color eight page booklet that features an introduction by Elijah Wood, an essay on the movie and the tragic end which Sara Anne Jones met after it was finished by Michael Tully. Additionally, this release features some classy reversible cover art.

    The Final Word:

    Toad Road wears its low budget on its sleeve but not to its detriment. This’ll likely be too raw for some, watching it is like poking an exposed nerve to a certain extent, but it’s well made and often times it feels frighteningly real. A horror movie in a very non-traditional sense, this is one that those who don’t mind a healthy dose of the real world mixed in with their cinema ought to check out. Artsploitation Films does their typically fine job with the release. The technical presentation isn’t mind blowing, it really can’t be, but the extras are top notch and really do a great job of rounding out the package as a whole.

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