Filipino director Yam Laranas’ atmospheric horror flick has some sporadically potent chills, but while effectively moody “The Road” proves overlong for optimal shock value, with entirely too many dull stretches along the way. And the deliberate pace means that anybody who hasn’t figured out the final twist long before it comes must have dozed off without benefit of a rest stop.
The picture is in three parts, presented in reverse chronological order. After a brief episode of a man shooting himself in a car, a 2008 segment centers on three teens—Ella (Barbie Forteza), Janine (Lexi Fernandes) and Brian (Derrick Monasterio)—who go off joyriding one night and find themselves on dark, deserted dirt road, long closed, where they’re terrorized first by a driverless car and then by a bevy of zombie-like ghouls.
After an apparent digression in which a cop (TJ Trinidad) with a mysterious past but an investigative gift agrees to look into the disappearance, a dozen years earlier, of the two daughters of a grieving mother (Jacklyn Jose), the narrative jumps back to 1998, when two sisters, Joy (Louise de los Reyes) and Lara (Rhian Ramos), are driving along the same road when their car overheats. They accept an offer from a recessive young man (Aiden Richards) walking by to follow him home and get water for the radiator. But once at his dilapidated house, he attacks them.
Part three moves a decade further back in time to 1988, when a boy (Renz Valerio) is brutalized by his cruel mother (Carmina Villarroel), who won’t let him set foot outside their home despite the temptations of a girl who comes to do their laundry. She also browbeats his father (Marvin Agustin), a pious preacher too weak to respond until he’s pushed too far. This long, creepily elegiac section is followed by a resolution that ties the separate stories together—though neither very plausibly nor very cleanly—with that twist that should surprise no one.
The best thing about “The Road” is the mood of gloom and foreboding it establishes even in scenes (like the beginning of the second segment and much of the third) shot in daylight. The opening, which cleverly situates the credits between the posts of the fence that lines the road, is especially effective in establishing the tone, with an added assist from Johan Sonderqvist’s canny underscore (which, unfortunately, never manages the same degree of power afterward).
Otherwise, however, the picture is a hit-and-miss proposition. Though a few of the performances—by Villarroel and Richards, for example—is fairly strong, most of them are at best workmanlike, some (like Trinidad’s) pretty amateurish and others (like Valerio’s) hobbled by the repetition and funereal pacing. And while Laranas, acting as his own cameraman as well as co-editor with Mae Carzon, maintains an atmosphere of subdued menace, his very deliberate tempo suggests self-indulgence that might have been mitigated by some stronger outside advice.
The result is a film that shows promise, but doesn’t deliver fully on it.