It's a bit of a stretch to describe Toad Road as a horror movie, at least in the traditional sense. There's very little blood, no gore and none of the standard horror film clichés. But it does create a convincing sense of disquiet and dread, and a feeling of unreality pervades it that keeps the audience off balance.
James (James Davidson) is something of a slacker: a heavy recreational drug user whose father refuses to support him anymore unless he enters therapy, which he does grudgingly. He'd much rather party with his friends, drop acid and eat mushrooms. His outlook on life changes a bit when the innocent Sara (Sara Anne Jones) joins the group, and starts taking tentative steps into the drug culture. As Sara becomes more and more enamored with hallucinogens as a gateway to an expanded consciousness, James becomes more discontent with the culture, and protective of Sara, with whom he's started a romantic (though somewhat open) relationship.
Soon, Sara decides that her wider awareness needs one more experience to truly break open. She needs to travel down Toad Road. Toad Road is a local urban legend in York, Pennsylvania. The road runs through the grounds of an old mental institution, and has long since gone to seed. It's rumored to contain the seven gates to hell, and to affect in profound ways those who travel down it. Sara finally convinces James to take her there, though he is very resistant. Once they go, things are not the same.
Toad Road is told in an impressionistic way, jumping backward and forward in time and location, much like we might recall a distant memory, in fits and starts. It's an experiential film, much more concerned with evoking moods and drawing sharp characters than with narrative as such. The viewer gets the idea of the total story, but has to expend some effort piecing it all together.
The most impressive thing about the film is its very realistic depiction of the American middle class drug culture. It is able to do this, apparently, by employing drug users as actors who actually used drugs on set during filming, if the commentary and extras are to be believed, anyway. Regardless of how they achieved it, many viewers will be able to recognize characters and incidents from their own perhaps less than savory pasts.
The performances are all totally naturalistic, and not affected in the least. There really aren't any false notes at all, but Jones and Davidson are clear standouts, able to express complex emotions and evoke a very distinct culture and its mores. They also have a very good chemistry together, letting only hints through about the pain and deadness that lurk below the surface.
In many ways, Toad Road is an unsatisfying film, and is likely intended to be so. There's no real resolution to the central mystery, and much of the film is left ambiguous, as real life often is. It is a very well-crafted film, however, and seems to have exactly the effect its producers intend. It's hallucinatory and affecting and subtle. Highly recommended.
Behind the Scenes
James and Sara Audition
Shotgun a Beer
Audio Commentary with Jason Banker, James Davidson, Jamie Siebold, Scott Rader and Jorge Torres-Torres