You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Toad Road’

Jason Banker's semi-improvised feature is an ostensible horror movie with little actual horror content.


James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitleigh Higuera, Jamie Siebold, Scott Rader, Donnie Simmons, Sarah Joelle Hildebrand, Damon Johansen, Jim Driscoll, Andy Martin, James Wyatt.

When an opening voiceover promises a glimpse of “the seven gates that lead to hell,” you’ve raised expectations bound to be frustrated by something like “Toad Road,” an ostensible horror movie with little actual horror content. Minus that genre billing, multihyphenate Jason Banker’s semi-improvised feature might be more easily appreciated for what it is: a drug-addled slice of life set among aimless Eastern youth that finally tips into ambiguous murder-mystery terrain. Intriguing if still somewhat unsatisfying on those terms, the pic won director and actor nods at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and will attract adventuresome indie horror fans in limited release starting Oct. 18, with home formats following in December.

Offering perhaps the most unappealing party-people scene since last year’s variably loathed and championed Sundance preem “The Comedy,” the personnel here (non-pro thesps who retain their real first names as characters) are a rudderless lot in their 20s or teens. They seemingly have nothing to do but get drunk, high, play dumb pranks (like setting an unconscious pal’s nether-hairs on fire), and occasionally attempt musicianship in a really, really terrible “band.” We meet James (James Davidson) as he’s being dragged, pants down, to a bathroom after a little too much fun. Having achieved near-terminal slackerdom, he’s getting his rent paid by Dad on the condition that he keep seeing a counselor (James Wyatt).

James mysteriously attracts pretty college freshman Sara (Sara Anne Jones), who’s enjoying independence for the first time and proves maybe too willing to join in with James & Co.’s prodigious drug use. (Even he admits he’s probably a “bad influence.) She’s also fascinated by a local urban legend about a nearby wooded area that’s the purported location of the aforementioned gates, which no longer exist physically along the forest trail, but can be sensed in terms of escalating hallucinations and other phenomena. It’s said that no one has gotten past the fifth gate, at which point time ceases to have meaning, blurring past, present and future.

After 45 minutes’ observation of this pretty pathetic social milieu, the lead duo duly set off to explore Toad Road, dropping acid for good measure. Once that kicks in, they’re separated, and we abruptly return to the very beginning, when we saw an underdressed James wake up face-down in the snow, then stumble toward back toward civilization. He thinks just hours have passed, but summer having turned to winter, he’s disconcerted to learn that he’s been gone six months, and is now a person of investigative interest in Sara’s disappearance.

There are eventual eye-blink flashback visions of what might have occurred. But “Road” isn’t interested in conventional reveals or conventional narrative chronology, as Banker and editor/co-d.p. Jorge Torres-Torres instead keep us in a state of dislocation that presumably echoes James’ overly self-medicated mindset. Subsidiary characters come and go with little or no explanation, and even the two leads’ backgrounding circumstances are very sparingly doled out. Though it can be taken at first glance as an archetypal “nothing happening” movie, there’s just enough going on here to suggest repeat viewings might reward curiosity.

No-budget, minimally crewed effort shot in Maryland and Pennsylvania has a very credible, lived-in feel to its slacker-culture sketch, with effective performances to match. More ominous, perhaps supernaturally tinged bits are fleeting but atmospheric, making good use of various-artists tracks heavy on unsettling ambient sounds.

Film Review: 'Toad Road'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 7, 2013. Running time: 76 MIN.


An Artspoitation Films release of a SpectreVision presentation in association with Random Bench of a Blackout Films production. Produced by Jason Banker, Liz Levine, Adrian Salpeter. Executive producers, Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood.


Directed, written by Jason Banker. Camera (color, HD), Banker, Jorge Torres-Torres, Jack McVeigh; editor, Torres-Torres; sound, Neil Benjamin.


James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitleigh Higuera, Jamie Siebold, Scott Rader, Donnie Simmons, Sarah Joelle Hildebrand, Damon Johansen, Jim Driscoll, Andy Martin, James Wyatt.

More Film

  • Sylvester Stallone

    Cannes: Sylvester Stallone Says 'Rambo' Wasn't 'Meant to Be a Political Statement'

    The final day of Cannes was devoted to honoring Sylvester Stallone, who conducted a masterclass on the Croisette, where he looked back at his 43-year career and discussed how he never intended “Rambo” to get so political. Thousands queued outside the Salle Debussy to sit down with the star and gave him a raucous standing [...]

  • Women in Animation, Les Femmes s’Animent

    Women in Animation, Les Femmes s’Animent Announce World Summit Lineup

      CANNES–Women in Animation (WIA) and Les Femmes s’Animent (LFA) have announced the program lineup and initial list of speakers for the third Women in Animation World Summit, which will take place June 10 in conjunction with the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival and Mifa. The summit will feature a day-long symposium of panels and discussions [...]

  • Chloe Sevigny Podcast

    Chloë Sevigny on That Time Bill Murray Took Her for a Joyride in a Cop Car

    If there’s one thing Bill Murray’s co-stars can depend on, it’s that the comedic actor will give them a good time. Just ask Chloë Sevigny and Adam Driver, who play fellow police officers opposite Murray in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die.” “He brought us on a joyride in a cop car,” Sevigny [...]

  • 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Pushed Back Due

    'Sonic the Hedgehog' Movie Pushed Back to 2020 Due to Character Design Changes

    Paramount Pictures is pushing its “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie back three months, from Nov. 8 to Valentine’s Day. The delay follows fan criticism over the appearance and design of the titular blue hedgehog — particularly his teeth and lean legs. Director Jeff Fowler tweeted that it was “taking a little more time to make Sonic [...]

  • Aladdin

    Box Office: 'Aladdin' Flies to $7 Million on Thursday Night

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” flew to $7 million during Thursday night previews in North America. That’s well above the $5.7 million that “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” earned two weeks ago on its way to a $54 million three-day opening. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” took in $5.5 million in previews on the [...]

  • Cannes The Square Winner

    SF Studios Acquires Nordic Rights to Ruben Östlund’s 'Triangle of Sadness'

    SF Studios has acquired the Nordic distribution rights to Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” the Swedish filmmaker’s follow up to the Palme d’Or winning “The Swquare.” A contemporary satire taking place in the world of fashion, “Triangle of Sadness” is set on a luxury yacht and ends up on a deserted island where hierarchies are [...]

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays

    Narendra Modi Wins New Mandate in Indian Election and Divides the Film Industry

    India has returned the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to power for a second term, with a huge mandate. In doing so, it polarized the film industry. The NDA won 351 seats out of a total of 542. The biggest democratic exercise in the world, more than 600 million Indians voted across six weeks. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content