I have been trying to watch a backlog of movies lately. Movies that I had really meant to watch.
As opposed to movies that I put in a queue. Or those currently sitting on my DVR that I have no desire to watch. Movies that provoke deep soul searching about why I would ever have taken note of them even while I am desperately searching for something to watch.
Toad Road falls into none of those categories. It is something I saw mentioned in passing over at Dreadit. I thought I hadn’t paid attention. The title did nothing for me, giving me images of a poor attempt to emulate Frogs. There was no other information in the post and I didn’t pursue it further.
However, I did see it listed on Netflix while I was studiously ignoring my queue and flitting through the rest of Netflix on the TV. Putting things in queue and flipping through movies seems to be what I do most with Netflix. I hear it is also used to watch stuff. Rumors, huh?
The cover image intrigued me. At least more intriguing than whatever I had been looking at previously, a long list of shitty films about demons and zombies and zombie demons. The description did nothing for me, but it did mention hell and that was what I was looking for, though I wasn’t aware of that before I powered up the TV.
Disaffected James and town newcomer Sara decide to go to Toad Road — and risk whatever may happen as they pass seven gates that lead toward hell.
I assumed the movie wasn’t going to be about shape-shifting toads in a nuclear waste-contaminated forest. With only that to go on, I fired up Toad Road.
It wasn’t what I expected.
It started out as I may have expected. This could be due to my having watching a series of really sub par independent horror films in the last couple days. My view was definitely tainted.
It seemed a badly filmed movie with no substance other than a bunch of asshole younger folk getting blasted on various drugs. The very first sentence annoyed me. It hung there for a few moments by itself.
Flaccid penis showed up within the first five minutes, followed quickly by ass hair lighting. Drugs and booze and nothing of interest. Nothing unusual, really.
It dragged. I got annoyed with these people. I wondered what the fucking point was.
That was the point. That was the atmosphere the film intended to create. The very real fucked up ennui that this type of young person falls into. Friends due to proximity and the false camaraderie of a good buzz as much as any real connection. The drab coloring and low light in the beginning was a reflection of what I’ve seen every day for months now — cold.
It was gritty and real. Almost too real. The slow roll sucked me in and I didn’t see it coming. The sudden awareness of arriving somewhere without realizing it is important to the sense of the film.
By the time the female lead, Sara, started to fall down the rabbit hole of drugs, I was hooked as well. She had been the bit of purity in the beginning. Her fall was harsh. We could all see it coming, including her male love interest. None of us could or would stop it.
The camera work here is good. The angles are tilted and a bit dreamy. This is the entrancing side of drug use, when everything seems a bit livelier and the darkness is still hanging back.
There is a moment exhibiting how Sara is caught in between. The little devil on her shoulder won out. In the same scene where Sara notes that it is a nice day and probably a good day for a mushroom experience, the group heads into the darkened, graffitied caves for their experience.
Sara’s first trip interrupts her attempt to go back into the light. In that few moments, her world shatters. For the rest of the movie, we watch it tumble in pieces to the ground. In her mind, Sara is seeking something more, something special and deep.
Sara is abusing substances in an attempt to pull back a curtain. James is coming to realize that there is nothing behind that curtain but yourself, and there is only one road to escape yourself.
Much of James’ early exposition is an explanation of just what it’s like to wake up one day and realize you’re fucked up and in a ditch you can’t climb out of. Sara is not really listening. I heard him explain what the Toad Road really was and I started to see this film in a new way.
All of these characters are lost. Some don’t care, some don’t know. Our two leads know they are and seek opposite paths toward salvation.
The nagging feeling in my mind that there shouldn’t be seven gates to hell is resolved as I watch Sara and James and see that I am watching the story of addiction as played out in those seven gates, as explained by Sara.
- A feeling of being watched.
- Hearing things.
- Seeing things.
- You pass out.
- Time is warped and you lose your mental grip on reality.
- It takes over you. Your veins boil. You must leave your old self.
- Nothingness. Black void. The ultimate solitude.
According to the legend of the Seven Gates of Hell that Sara recounts, nobody has been beyond the fifth gate. Sara wants to see it through to the end.
With some LSD as their guide, Sara and James head into the woods.
James comes back six months later, alone. He has no idea where Sara is or what happened.
We, the viewers know. The story of addiction was played out. One of them emerged and one of them didn’t. The movie doesn’t necessarily resolve this for you and some reviewers called the movie unsatisfying and aimless.
If you recognize the horror theme for what it is, this sense of aimlessness, and even a lack of satisfaction, is as it should be. Of course James is guilty, but not for anything so simple as a slasher flick death. He is guilty of taking her hand and leading her down the path to ruin. He also knows that he is merely circumstantially guilty as just another thing Sara used in her search. Sara’s nature brought her to this end. This is reality horror and the tone and sense of it was captured beautifully.
The final dedication at the end of the movie brings it home in a surreal way.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF SARA ANNE JONES.
[That last link is worth a look into the brief story of Sara Anne Jones.
To wrap up, I like this song better than the video Sara Anne Jones appeared in, Death Cab’s “Stay Young, Go Dancing”]