The horrors of drug addiction lend themselves rather well to the realm of horror cinema, and it's a testament to both the genre and the filmmaker when a micro-budget indie can find a dark and novel way to combine them. In a drama or comedy (or, ugh, a "dramedy") the dark and disturbing truths of deep drug addiction can be made to feel forced, simplistic, and artificial -- but the horror genre gives its world-builders license to be creative, and to hide their ideas in hidden corners. The brand-new indie horror film Toad Road may be a bit too surreal, vague, or abstract for some genre fans, but once the flick gets past a rocky start, it becomes a strangely compelling and mysterious little tale indeed.
Toad Road opens as sort of an East Coast gutter version of Trainspotting -- although its characters are nowhere near as oddly affable as in Danny Boyle's film. We're introduced to a frankly repulsive group of "friends" who get together to do hard drugs and hang out in caves, but there's no real sense of warmth, loyalty, or humanity to be found in this crew. Amidst all the vomiting and self-destruction, a small glimmer of "boy meets girl" sweetness manages to arise, but the ever-present specter of drug addiction is not about to release one of its most passionate guys -- and one of its newest girls.
A tentative romance sparks up between the highly experienced James (James Davidson) and the innocent but curious Sara (Sara Ann Jones), but here's where Toad Road throws its most interesting idea at the screen: in most movies, the fresh-faced gal would "rescue" the drug-addicted guy and they'd try to find some semblance of happiness together. In Toad Road, however, writer/director Jason Banker makes the neophyte the leader. In other words, the guy who has seen it all, drug-wise, starts to imagine a life outside of LSD and shrooms, while his adorable new girlfriend is the one who wants to delve deeper and deeper into the world of hallucination.
Again, it's a deliberately-paced and sometimes frustrating film, but it's plainly evident that Banker and his team have a few compelling points to make about the practical dangers of drug abuse, the sometimes insidious nature of co-dependence, and the horrors we all feel when we realize something terrible has happened... and it just might be our fault. Virtually plotless for a little while, Toad Road starts to get particularly creepy in Act III as our drug-addicted young lovers decide to trip face on the infamous "Toad Road." No stalkers, no monsters, and not a whole lot in traditional narrative logic, but there's still a primal and insightful edge to Toad Road that has a lot to say about the dangers of social and communal drug abuse, and it sure seems like the filmmakers are working from some degree of experience.