“The Road”

This is a fascinating, beautiful film. So I guess I’ll get this out of the way at the beginning: I liked it. You should watch it. There.

In the interest of writing something worth reading, I suppose some details are in order.

The Road is a complex horror piece from the Philippines. This is, I think, the first film I’ve seen from that part of the world. It’s in Tagalog, which means that the dialogue is generally subtitled, though there are some somewhat jarring moments of perfectly lucid spoken English interspersed throughout.

The eponymous stretch of pavement–actually dirt–is surprisingly less central to the plot than the old house it passes. But we’ll get to that in a second.

The movie first introduces us to Luis, a young police officer, new to the force, who, as the film opens, is receiving a medal for his particularly enthusiastic brand of police-work. After some exposition, the scene switches to three teenagers who decide to go for an illicit car ride late at night. Their whiny, angsty trip takes them, inevitably, to the titular road, where some requisite spooky shit starts to happen.

This is where things get interesting. As horror movies often do, this film jumps around chronologically. Once the first crop of kids are dealt with, it hops back in time ten years (the film’s present is 2008), where another story unfolds, again in the general vicinity of the aforementioned overland vehicular transportation route. Some people get murdered, etc. etc.

Then it jumps back to the present, the plot moves forward a few inches with Luis struggling to find out what happened to the kids, and then it goes back even further into the past, this time to 1988. This story, and the one preceding it, reveal the sinister origins of the haunting that the characters are dealing with in the present.

The Road, like a lot of good horror, doesn’t do anything really new; but what it does, it does very well. First and foremost, the cinematography is simply brilliant. From the best opening credits I’ve seen in a long time, to macro-lens shots of butterflies, to the judicious use of color filters, the execution is on par with (or, more often, surpasses) virtually any recent US horror film. Offhand, I can only think of one other horror film that mirrors The Road’s excellent camerawork and sound engineering/scoring, and that’s the fantastic, inimitable A Tale of Two Sisters.

Sisters is, incidentally, my favorite horror film of all time. I don’t often compare movies to it, because they simply don’t bear comparison. The Road does, in terms of the quality of its production, and the pleasing ambiguity of the plot (if not quite in tone or narrative structure).

Its failings are few and largely forgivable. Among them, the aforementioned ambiguity is at times too dense to decipher. In particular, there is a considerable disconnect between the past vignettes and the protagonist’s present life that is never addressed, even in passing. Alas, I can’t be less vague without spoiling it. Likewise, one character’s death (it’s horror–you know people were going to die) is never explained and apparently without motive.

These loose ends are very minor issues, and in the long run they don’t detract from the overall experience of the film. The only significant criticism I have is that the film really isn’t frightening. The true fear generated by the narrative is not the fear of the supernatural, but the depths of depravity and violence that are the legacy of domestic abuse. (Again cryptic, in the interest of avoiding spoilers.) Also, the ending is perhaps a weak point, though it becomes less so if you watch the film a second time.

The Road is a beautiful, bleak, tragic story of abuse and its often unforeseeable consequences. The way it plays with time is occasionally confusing, but the story is told in such a compelling, skillful way that you won’t mind puzzling through it (and it does become significantly clearer on a second viewing). The director, Yam Laranas, is also responsible for the original The Echo. I haven’t seen it, but I did see the US remake (which Laranas also directed), and it was actually quite good. Laranas is a director to watch if you like thoughtful, beautiful horror. The Road is both of these. 90/100.

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