Directed by Jason Banker
This elliptical exploration of the emotional landscape of drug abuse eschews the tired tropes of Sundance-caliber indies; instead, it’s a substances-fueled allegory-qua-mystery. Its central band of friends lives and hangs in York, PA, playing rock n’ roll, having sex (or at least getting naked), and getting wasted. The fragmentary structure reflects the inebriated experience; there’s a lot of goofing off, young people being beautiful and fucked up, sometimes even attractively photographed while doing so—like Larry Clark via Gus van Sant. (Director-writer-producer-cinematographer Jason Banker has a documentary background.) It’s a glimpse into dope culture, the constant getting fucked up on myriad chemicals: tripping on E in a bedroom, eating mushrooms in a cave. I don’t think they ever drop the same shit twice.
But the movie is more than the sum of its naturalistic debauchery. The title refers to an urban legend, a path behind the ol’ mental hospital in the woods, along which stand the invisible Seven Gates of Hell; passing through each brings you to a deeper level of loneliness and despair: bad feelings, ominous sounds and hurtful voices, then bad visions, cold temperatures, the graying and decay of the world around you. Then nothingness.
Of course, this isn’t just a spatialization of a bad trip but also, more poetically speaking, the course of substance abuse. When an actual walk down Toad Road ends with months of time and a person both gone missing, it articulates what too many drugs can do: make you lose not only stretches of your life but also the people you love. That increasingly destructive trajectory ends, like the movie, in solitude, underscoring the essential loneliness of rockbottom. As one character (James Davidson) says to his acid-crazed girlfriend (Sara Anne Jones), who’s, um, piecing the mysteries of the world together, “There is no bigger picture to drugs.” At least not when used chronically—they’re just good feelings until they aren’t.
Opens October 25