Toad Road (2012)
directed by Jason Banker
starring James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones
While stylistically impressive and aesthetically alluring, Toad Road presents a promising and enigmatic foundation, but never builds upon it well enough to become either an effective horror or mystery film. Supported by a mostly amateur cast, Toad Road tells the story of a group of aimless, drug-fueled college-aged kids in a small town with an urban legend of a local road with a series of gates that leads to hell. Primarily, the film focuses on a couple within the group, James (James Davidson) and Sara (Sara Anne Jones, who bizarrely enough, died of a drug overdose after the film premiered), the latter of whom simultaneously becomes obsessed with the local legend and any high she can acquire.
About halfway through the short runtime of the film (just 76 minutes), Toad Road very much felt like it was meandering. The urban legend is teased early on, but then the film dives into seemingly endless scenes character development that seem irrelevant and almost improvised. The film features many flashbacks, and is frequently self-referential, making a lot of the early scenes feel a little more important retrospectively, however, too many portions of the film just didn’t gather enough momentum, and remained unvindicated by the eventual reveals. The attempts at scares are also extremely sparse, and combined with the film frequently backtracking or literally cutting itself off, any kind of tension or atmosphere that is building is unfortunately neutralized.
It should be said that Toad Road is almost (but not quite) worth a view simply for it’s presentation. It has many excellent long-shots, spontaneous close-ups, and has a similar cinematographic style to It Follows (though this film predates it and is far less superior). But the story itself is unsatisfying. The soundtrack is fantastic, very low-key for the most part featuring ambient and subtle synth tracks, perfectly synchronizing with the mood on-screen. Even as great as everything looks and sounds, my main feeling towards the film was frustration in a solid, unique idea that was filmed with much ambition, but went ultimately unredeemed.