The lore contends that Toad Road, running somewhere near York, Pennsylvania, leads to the Seven Gates of Hell. The road’s series of ramshackle gates brings travelers deeper and deeper into the wilderness, as each triggers increasingly chthonic phenomena for the poor souls who dare cross its threshold to endure; no one’s ever made it past the fifth.
This is the legend upon which Jason Banker’s messy, ambitious Toad Road rests, and it’s part of what makes the film an exceedingly rare example of docu-horror in which it’s genuinely difficult to discern what’s scripted and what isn’t.
That the answer lies somewhere in between won’t come as much comfort when you realize that the non-actors who make up the cast really are ingesting hallucinogens inside a cave. Really the story of two directionless twentysomethings whose budding romance is thrown off course by one’s misbegotten belief in altered states of mind holding the key to a higher plane of consciousness, the film never lets the concept of its namesake drift too far—like Freddy Krueger, Toad Road’s power is commensurate with people’s belief in it.
Not all of Banker’s tricks work, and the balance between Blair Witch–style disturbances and wastoid shenanigans could certainly lean closer to the former, but there are a number of deeply unnerving moments you’ll feel in your bones. Though far from perfect, Toad Road is also the first unique horror film to come along in years; based on a closing card you’ll wish weren’t true, it may also be the most tragic.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 23, 2013