In a forgotten corner deep in the heart of nowhere is York, a small American town without history, where time appears to stand still. It’s one of those monotonous municipalities a traveller passes through without a passing glance. Its inhabitants lead a tranquil existence far from the stress of the big city. But its calm weighs heavily on the shoulders of York’s young residents. In their eyes, the town is their futures’ dead-end, a place that must be fled as soon as the opportunity arises. Devoid of any real ambitions, James fears that his moment will never come. To blot out the inevitable, he fights off boredom with joyless partying. His routine is a vicious alcohol- and drug-saturated circle. Self-destruction looms, until one day when Sara bursts into his life. Intrigued by a local legend, the dazzling Sara asks James to accompany her to Toad Road, a wooded area near York and the site of the Seven Gates of Hell. Smitten, he’d follow her anywhere, even beyond the limits of the natural world. When James accepts Sara’s invitation, he penetrates the mysterious forest with her, assuming all risks — because if the rumour is true, they cannot return and will remain prisoners of the kingdom of shadows forever.
The impressive first full-length feature by the talented Jason Banker, the unclassifiable TOAD ROAD is at a crossroads of sorts. On the one hand, it’s an intimate meditation on lost youth that evokes the films of Gus Van Sant. Depicted with disconcerting realism, Banker’s narrative paints a nuanced portrait of a nihilistic generation, and with the penetrating gaze of a Larry Clark, it captures James’s essence of despair. The result is a poignant drama of human decline. But TOAD ROAD also represents a radical deconstruction of genre cinema. Inspired by a real urban legend, it imagines a world close to our own where the fantastic arises in daily life. The closer our protagonists get to Toad Road, the blurrier the border between real and imaginary becomes. Suddenly, the initial naturalistic position gives way to a contagious waking dream that challenges everything we see. Blind terror chokes us and won’t let go. Devastating and brilliant, TOAD ROAD is an object of contemplation and dread, and a journey down unexpected paths.
— Simon Laperrière