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Filipino director Yam Laranas’ THE ROAD (opening May 11 in
U.S. theaters from Freestyle Releasing) is broken into three distinct parts
and, in reverse, tells a story that encompasses both supernatural phenomena and
very human evil.
Part one, which takes place in 2008, begins in a way
stereotypical enough to make most horror fans gag. Three teenagers go for a
drive, they begin to get frightened and horrifying things start to happen
around them as they are unable to get off the road. However, the queasy sense
of familiarity quickly fades as the teens pull over, and begin to investigate
vehicle wreckage in nearby foliage (a plot point brought back up in part two).
Hazy figures begin to attack the teens, and while such a scenario seems
played-out, there is such striking beauty in the onscreen imagery, it’s hard
not to respond to the freshness of the visuals. One very brief moment deserves
particular mention: As two of the teens run in fear, a hazy figure can be seen
hovering in the far distance. Words can’t describe the impact of that single
shot, which alone makes the film worth watching. (This section, interestingly,
resembles a number of modern French horror films, including INSIDE, ILS/THEM
and HIGH TENSION.)
After a harsh cut, a group of police officers are apparently
looking for the three teens we saw in the previous section—which leads us into
part two, set in 1998. Two sisters are driving down that same road when their
car breaks down, and an awkward young man just happens to be walking by at that
moment. They head back to the boy’s house, where he clubs them over the head
and locks them inside—yes, here we go again, as THE ROAD falls back into that
dreary land of tired storylines and tormented victims.
And yet, although the parallels between parts one and two
are almost too clear, the equivalence gives the audience an understanding of
events that are unclear at best as part one comes to a close. The primary
function of the midsection is to offer an explanation for the supernatural
occurrences during the opening act—and to serve as a gateway into part three,
which more broadly defines the reasons behind everything we’ve seen up to this
point. Fascinatingly, as each part of the film unfolds, previously unexplained
imagery and story points are explained in complete detail, creating a depth
within THE ROAD that often goes missing in modern horror.
In the third and final section, which plays out in 1988, the
story of that murderous young man’s childhood is explored. Confined to his
house, with a brutally cracked mother and God-fearing, incapable father, he
starts down the path to homicidal tendencies. As opposed to part one’s visual
reminder of French horror cinema, this segment offers a distinct parallel to A
TALE OF TWO SISTERS—not only in tone, but in specific content.
The disjunction of the editing, which creates a
disconnection in the flow of the story, is not enough to detract from all the
positives that THE ROAD offers. Another problem is the score, which too often
directly hits on the action and interferes with the psychological subtext that
the visuals elicit. The film might have been better off with more minimalistic
music, or none at all. But these issues do not weigh heavily enough to detract
from the many qualities of THE ROAD, whose overall effect stays with the viewer
for days—which is what truly makes it worth seeing. The intricacy of the
multifaceted plot is difficult to sum up in just a few paragraphs, but one
thing is certain: THE ROAD is a gift to horror fans, and shouldn’t be missed.
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