The Philippines is not particularly known for horror movies. I mean, most of the movies produced in that country when I was growing up consists of drama, a lot of action movies and comedy, and of course, what was called to be “Sex Trip” movies since that was what sells in that country. I don’t really blame the producers for giving the masses what they wanted to watch (ok, I haven't lived in my native country for 20 years). It is after all a business, and so imagine my surprise when a Filipino film called “The Road” was playing nearby and has been getting some good reviews in other websites. My hopes were up that I was finally going to see a good “Pinoy” horror movie, I haven't seen a good one since the days of “Tiyanak” and “Shake Rattle and Roll”.
The film begins with three teenagers (Lexi Fernandez, Derrick Monasterio and Barbie Forteza) who decide to go for a joyride in Janine’s mother’s car. The three stumble into a dirt road that seemed to lead to short cut when strange apparitions begin to appear. The road is haunted and something had gone awry; now a young cop named Luis Medina (TJ Trinidad) is assigned the case as he finds the remains of another victim in the abandoned road. The remains have been identified as one of the sisters (Rhian Ramos and Louise Delos Reyes) who had disappeared ten years past.
Please understand that I intentionally made my brief synopsis rather vague, as the less you know about this film the better its experience may be. Director Yam Laranas tries his hand in taking the viewer into something psychological and the supernatural as he divides the movie into three parts with 10 years in between each one (between 2008, 1998 and 1988). The title character (in this one the road itself) is actually what gets developed in the film, as the viewer is taken for a ride that reveals its history and how such things have come to be. “The Road” is a careful exercise in slow burn, the script Aloy Adlawan and Yam Laranas intentionally made the film to feel very episodic, and given the film’s low-budget the transition between each chapter is rather rough and uneven, but I respected what it tried to do.
The film’s themes are all wrapped around a bad situation and child abuse, the supernatural that is made up of ectoplasm, vengeful ghosts and residual hauntings. The haunting’s history reveals a lot, and going backward allows the film to generate suspense as the viewer is taken for a ride in a backward manner ala-“Memento“. Characters are introduced, as we get to know a dysfunctional family made up of performers Carmina Villaroel, Renz Valerio and Martin Augustin as well as the two sisters who had disappeared. All the three chapters are closely linked to what is supernatural around its premise. However, the direction struggles to establish a footing around its plot. Several elements were poorly developed and several devices required a big suspension of disbelief. The direction and the scripting was a little clumsy in some areas, that rendered the pacing of the film very inconsistent.
There is a lot of atmosphere in the film. The direction relies on the use of shadows, some grisly visuals and what we can call jump scares on occasion to allow for the film’s story to be told. Most of the film is confined in a limited space such as the road, a dilapidated house, and a scene in the police station. I liked the film’s use of practical effects and the lack of CGI, and some scenes were creepy enough. There is a lot of ghosts in the film, and some admittedly were pretty cool. However, it felt that the direction was trying a little too hard and what was meant to be scary became something like a mere dramatic flair to develop the story.
The dialogue in the film was a little too indecisive, shallow (I understand my native language), and much of the camerawork lingered a little too much. The characters in the film’s third part were interesting, but by then, the film seemed to have gone along with the rest of the clumsy execution in the first two parts. The performances in the film range from tepid to wooden, and it sure did not help matters any with its lazy scripting. Atmosphere can only carry a horror so far, careful methodical build up and characters often make for the power of a horror movie. “The Road” does have the build up, but the execution lacked focus and coherency. It did feel rushed in some areas and some scenes felt a little too redundant.
Wrap it all up with an epilogue that is meant to be a twist and a shock ending, the film feels a little too tired by the closing act. “The Road” is a good idea whose potential could not be realized. Yam Laranas had the right intentions and he had the right idea for a screenplay, but he lacked the necessary skill as director to pull off a horror movie with a lot more narrative power. Too bad, the story itself had a lot of potential and I appreciated the fact that Laranas tried to abandon the Pinoy movie staples of the past, meaning a lot of mish-mashing of scenes from other movies. This film would've benefitted from a stronger cast and a bigger budget. Now this is one horror movie idea that Hollywood may do well in remaking since this film has a lot of room in improving its execution.