TOAD ROAD: A Hellucinatory Cautionary Tale

Toad Road is a movie of modern cult acclaim in the horror community for good reason. Due to the real life death of actress Sara Jones following this movie, Toad Road is not only the perfect portrait of millennial drug culture but a harrowing foresight.  Horror and psychedelics have always been a great formula to create cinematic madness, but what Toad Road pulls off feels more unnerving and impactful with its style. It’s one of those films you can tell was made by someone who has had experiences with the drug, there’s a subtle unnerving frequency they’re able to portray that’s unique to the hallucinatory experience and Toad Road thrives on this.

The film introduces a group of friends. They’re not hippies, they’re not drug dealers or any stereotypical portrayal of drug users. Most realistically they are simply a group of friends bonded by the shared past of getting fucked up in their rural suburbia. For some, these scenes will seem stolen from their own lives as the friends proceed to carry each other through stupors, cause minor mischief and harass one another’s drug fueled states. They are a true crew. Then enters a new member (Sarah Jones) who has not been indoctrinated with the ways of their tribe. She’s a seemingly innocent girl who expresses an interest in “trying the stuff”. As she dabbles and becomes a part of the group’s shenanigans, she becomes more and more intoxicated not just by the substances but her friend group… and until word of Hell’s Gates are heard, all seems to be typical for a young merry group of pranksters. The myth that if one trips hard enough and walks through a certain portion of forest they can walk through the seven rings of hell becomes a fixation and ultimately a dare for Sara. She decides to walk through the seven rings, taking two tabs and heading into the forest… never to return again. What follows is the sobering grief that surrounds her disappearance and encourages the friends to retreat from their ways after such a dire consequence.

Utilizing the found footage style, Toad Road achieves a heightened sense of realism. While many found footage films struggle to justify their camera’s choice, the lens of millennials getting fucked up is quite a generous one as you’ve no doubt seen it at any party you’ve been to. Watching the recordings of people falling over themselves, babbling, vomiting, passing out in the name of partying serves to survey the evolution of fun times into bad times. Even when the characters can’t see it we do, being the disconnect of a sober eye and drunken room. The hallucinogenic affects work mostly on paranoia and misdirection which feels more real than any CG graphic would have. The Gates of Hell for example do not appear as giant flaming portals in the middle of the forest. Rather, things are there, then not and then over there. You can’t keep track of things. What was that?! Oh, nothing. All these various notes play wonderfully of the true disturbances of a drug experience. And watching Sara become more and more attune with the paranoia of these new friends of hers becomes a dread inducing sense of fatalism that seems so symptomatic with hallucinations.

Much of this film can be summed up as an analogy for imminent phenomena of losing someone to an overdose. The grief felt in the third act after Sara’s disappearance is an emotional punchline filled with questions from parents, authorities and friends that cannot be explained other than the fact that she’s gone. It’s a harrowing ordeal that sobers up everyone involved and brings them out of their drug addled days. Adding a deeper depth to the film is the reflections of the third act that echo into the real life loss of Sara Jones to an overdose following the film’s release. With its real world and cinematic impact, Toad Road stands as an excellent exploratory and cautionary tale about modern drug culture.

Jon Chamis
Black Soul / Metallic Heart
Jon Chamis is a screenwriter from Vermont whose fascinated by all films weird, horrific and macabre. From praising Bergman to defending Rob Zombie's Halloween, Jon likes to explore any artist striving to push boundaries and can be found in the parking lot before any matinee showing of a new release. You can catch him over at Letterboxd to chat about film.
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