Review: Promising ‘Toad Road’ cuts short its potential
A junkie hipster spin on the unreliable-narrator conceit, “Toad Road” is based on an urban legend about a trail dubbed the Seven Gates of Hell behind a former mental institution in York, Pa. Think of it as the CliffsNotes version of Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.”
The film starts out with sort of a Harmony Korine homage, in which unsupervised slouches drop acid, forage for magic mushrooms, wrestle each other to the ground and perform stupid human tricks that are unfit for print.
When the up-to-no-good James (James Davidson) compares a bad acid trip to Toad Road, the place immediately strikes the readily corruptible Sara (Sara Anne Jones) as a must-see. As they proceed to scope out the urban legend for themselves, the film starts to recall David Lynch’s disorienting enigmas. The revelation of the real-life death of Jones in the end-credits dedication only shrouds the film in more mystery.
The home-movie vérité style of the early scenes pays dividends when inexplicable occurrences suddenly take us by surprise. Writer-director Jason Banker — who cut his teeth as a documentary cinematographer — shows a very deft hand akin to fellow newcomer Sean Durkin’s. But as with Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Toad Road” comes to a very abrupt end that makes it seem comparatively slight.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Playing: At Arena Cinema, Hollywood.
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