The road to hell is paved, it turns out, with boring slackers. When I was in high school, there was a good deal of talk about a place in suburban Pittsburgh called Whiskey Hollow. It was the usual urban legend kinda place that high school kids everywhere talk about—mysterious figures in hooded black robes, culty shit, satanists, sacrifices, some faceless dude—the stuff of fairly standard and likely not very good found footage today.
I never managed to get out there, but I did go out to a similar place near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania called St. Phillip’s Church. There was a cemetery, an old shed full of really old looking tools including a horse drawn plow, and a church that looked, inside and out, like something out of Lovecraft. It was creepy.
Nothing even roughly paranormal or even odd happened. Okay one of the dumber sorority girls lost her shit and passed out slumped over a tombstone, but she was shitcan hammered.
My point is, going in, I was well aware what Toad Road was supposed to be about. A mere 3½ hours west of Pittsburgh is York. Yeah, where the weight lifting stuff comes from. Their urban legend concerns The 7 Gates Of Hell. One version involves a burned down asylum, the other a weird doctor. I don’t really see why these are mutually exclusive necessarily, but there ya go.
The movie of course features a couple college-age yutes who decide to go through the 7 gates. I gotta say, what with the asylum and the doctor, I’d love to see Rob Zombie all over this. Otherwise, Toad Road could at least have been a nifty lil found footage flick if handled right. This is not what happened. At what should be a crisp 75-minute run time, you’d think we’d jump straight into some shit. We don’t.
Now, I’m a big fan of the slow burn, but 75 minutes ain’t a lotta time for that. So it mystifies me that in the first 50 minutes, the only thing even close to tension is when one of the characters, Sara, has a bad experience her first time trying mushrooms. From there, though, she becomes fascinated with hallucinogenics, starts researching Toad Road, and is just dyin’ to experience the legend for herself. Here endeth what passes for character development.
Around the 52-minute mark there’s a vaguely interesting event leading to two related results. 1) Sara goes missing. 2) James leaves the woods and discovers that weeks have gone by rather than one night. “Finally!” I thought, but nothing ever comes of this.
I wanted to like Toad Road. I was rootin’ for it. Really I was. But damn. 50 minutes of drug-addled, two-dimensional 20-somethings moving from one drug-addled get together to the next gets a little monotone. Don’t get me wrong. I did my share of drugs. And probably your share too. But one of the major reasons I gave that all up was the people I had to do drugs with. They bored me. The answer to any question was more drugs.
So it is with Toad Road. It’s not just that nobody in it is likeable, but nothing they do or talk about is even remotely interesting, so I have no reason to give a rat’s ass about them or anything that happens to them.
Reluctant research on this left me baffled as well. It’s touted as “unique” and “uncomfortably authentic.” If uncomfortable suddenly became synonymous with mindnumbingly boring, I agree. Fangoria gave it 3.5 outta 4 stars. I’m not sure what movie any of these people saw. Even in a lukewarm 2013 review for Variety, Dennis Harvey added that “repeat viewings might reward curiosity.” Or not. That’s my inference. I remain unwilling to sit through it again to find out.
Seriously. Combine Slacker with Requiem For A Dream, add something quasi-paranormal, then somehow make it a chore to watch. In the end, I gotta go with Slant Magazine’s 2.5/5 review by Chuck Bowen on this one: “you don’t have to be a prude to wonder if 75 minutes in the company of these people is really time well spent.” Me? No wonder involved. It’s a no.
Stream- Flix Fling, Tubi
Rent- Apple TV, Prime