Review: The Road (directed by Yam Laranas)

The Road (directed by Yam Laranas)
5 10

PLOT: A lonely stretch of road in the Philippines is the scene of three different horror tales, each connected: Three teenagers find themselves lost and haunted by freaky spirits; two sisters seek shelter from the wrong man after their car breaks down; a boy and his father live a subservient existence under the tyrannical thumb of a wicked woman.

REVIEW: THE ROAD is a movie I want to see a remake of. Same writer/director, perhaps even in the same language (it was made in the Philippines), but with lessons learned from the mistakes the initial offering makes. Namely, a lack of finesse and a sense of urgency. An interesting concept is somewhat... “wasted” is too strong of a word, as THE ROAD does have its pleasures. Maybe "underwhelmed" is more accurate. The resounding feeling after it's over is that it could have been a knockout, and instead it's merely watchable.

Playing on a concept somewhat reminiscent of a J-horror film ala THE GRUDGE, Yam Laranas' movie tells us an overarching saga of a haunted stretch of road. The director wants to share a deeper, more subtle variation on the tired genre, so instead of a straight-forward narrative about people getting freaked out by ghosts, THE ROAD tries something a little different, allowing us to witness three different time periods in the road in question's existence, working backward from a standard story involving creepy visions that appear from nowhere to stories that shed light on the tragic events that conjured the haunting in the first place.

The majority of THE ROAD plays out like grim drama, relying predominantly on a steady undertone of dread to carry the tension. After the first act, which as mentioned is more or less a been-there, seen-that story of kids being spooked by ghastly figures along a dark path, we watch the sad story, set some years earlier, of two sisters' encounter with a maniac near the same road after they seek out his help. The following story tells why the maniac became a maniac, as we see his tortured past as a child driven mad by his domineering mother.

Certainly, there's a specific style on display in THE ROAD. Working calmly and deliberately. Laranas delivers a hushed atmosphere as his mystery unfolds; admirably, he mostly avoids cheap jump-scares and overbearing music. No doubt a student of horror from all parts of the world, Laranas would rather unnerve us with the “why?” aspect of his ghost story, and several scenes in the second half of the movie are eerily effective. But it's one thing for technique to dictate the way the story is told, it's another for it to rob the story of its dramatic weight. THE ROAD doesn't make us particularly care about any of what's going on, it just shows us. The film's structure dictates that we don't get very attached to any of the characters because their screen presences are brief, and when it's all said and done, when the whole curtain has been lifted on the sordid history of the road, we don't really feel anything.

There's also the even more pressing matter that THE ROAD can often be boring. There's “slow burn,” and there's just dragging things out, and while Laranas does both, the latter frequently wins out. At around 105 minutes, it's also too long. The fat could have been trimmed from several sequences; a crisper, shorter cut would have crawled under the skin much easier. Maybe he'll get another crack at it someday.

Extra Tidbit: THE ROAD opens in select U.S. cities on MAY 11th.



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