Jason Banker and Elijah Wood on ‘Toad Road’
Toad Road is a new film directed and produced by Jason Banker that simultaneously expands the parameters of what documentary filmmaking can be and blurs the lines between that format and traditional scripted filmmaking. In production since 2008, Jason views the film as a “horror-thriller” that follows the lives of a group of hard-living young friends who pursue an urban legend in York, Pennsylvania, that concerns a path in the woods that supposedly leads to the seven gates of hell. Their journey is one of self-discovery, heavy drug use, nihilism, and all of the other things young people around the world are struggling with at this very instant. What sets Toad Road apart from other movies is that the film was conceptualized and shot in a hybrid documentary-feature style, weaving a narrative out of the real lives of its subjects in a way that hits on greater truths than either form is capable of alone.
The film is due to be released—appropriately—this October. And it was during a prerelease screening attended by Elijah Wood that his horror-film company the Woodshed decided to back it as executive producers. I spoke with Jason and Elijah about the premise for the film and how the definition of “horror” has changed in this increasingly terrifying world we all share.
VICE: The way you cast this film was unique. But it falls in line with the aesthetic of the film. A few years ago, when you were conceptualizing the movie, you looked to VICE’s top MySpace friends and through that found your principals. How did that idea come about?
Jason Banker: I wanted to do a hybrid doc-horror thing, but I wanted it to be real situations. I started using MySpace first because at the time you could search it by area code, and I wanted to shoot it in my hometown. But I couldn’t find anybody from there, and I was like, “God, I want some really cool kids.” People who were pretty hardcore, you know? So I thought I should go on and check who’s friending VICE because everybody who reads VICE is connected to that culture. So I did that, and I found this perfect group of kids—actually I found one, and then I looked at his top friends and they were the perfect cast.
How long ago was this?
I started casting in 2008. It’s been a long process because I didn’t have any money to make the film and I needed to find real kids. I wanted to do this thing where I used their real lives and bend a fictional story around them. They were totally down to do it. And I told them I wanted to use like them using real drugs and being who they were, and find the characters that way.