I guess I have to point out something positive about the growing numbers of foreigners in our land, in that the numbers will justify cinema from their home country to be viable for big screen outings here. I get my fair share of the latest blockbuster movies from India given that it's one of the major cultural make up in Singapore already, then there's the Thai, Korean and Japanese flicks that not only cater to foreigners residing here, but to its legion of fans from time to time. And with films from ASEAN from The Raid to The Collector gaining prominence everywhere, it's only time to add Philippine Cinema to the list.
It's true that indie or arthouse films from the Philippines do make it to film festivals here, but for the mass market audience, The Road is perhaps one of the earliest to hit commercial cinemas here in a long while, as far as my memory serves. And what better way than for a horror film to try and open up the doors, one that features an ensemble cast of stars with idol looks to spark an interest, besides providing Filipinos here with something from home. But as with most horror films around the region, it's usually touch and go basis, and The Road, boasted for getting itself a US distribution, it's somewhat of a roller coaster ride with its fair share of creepy moments, ultimately done in via a runtime that artificially sustained a thin plot.
Written and directed by Yam Laranas, The Road is actually made up of three story arcs each set in a different time line separated by a decade each, and linking them is the titular road along which something strange and macabre even that had happened in a dilapidated house found along it, together with an abandoned car. The opening shot, pardon the pun, set the stage for an epic mystery to be unravelled, with the stage set for a hot shot cop Luis (TJ Trinidad), decorated with a medal for his string of successful case closures, to prove himself in the series of events that follow.
In the first arc, three friends go out for an illegal joyride, making a detour into The Road to avoid a police roadblock, and in what would be a case of bad luck, encounter ghouls that seem to be stuck in groundhog day fashion, repetitive hauntings of the trio. Things don't really happen with much logic here, and the strength of friendship amongst the trio got rather telling when it becomes every man (and woman) for him/herself. So much for solidarity when the shit hits the fan. This arc was more teenage drama before the effects and make up crew shifted gears and made it their own toward the end.
The second arc tried to become a mini outing along the torture porn genre, but unfortunately with the more violent offering in practically every film in the genre, this arc turned out to be rather tame, with a man inexplicably hammering his victims, two sisters, away without remorse or reason, making it a battle for survival against complete madness. It's also responsible for some interest to wane, as the story here proved to be one of the weakest, and overstayed its welcome through a series of scenes that dragged out quite unnecessarily. We know who's alive and who's not from the earlier arc, and the narrative really took its time to get there.
But thankfully, the redeeming factor came from the third act. While it didn't offer anything we don't know about nor new in the narrative sense with similar themes being explored before in other films, and tosses up some more questions than answers, it is the actors here delivering better performances from the rest, and a story that's set against a dysfunctional family, that showed of Laranas' strength in storytelling. The narrative got creepier as it went along, with practical effects enhancing moments within that will make your hair genuinely stand on ends. By now you'd realize that Laranas rarely dips into the oft used box of the same old techniques used to scare audiences with quick jump cuts and edits, preferring to let the camera take its time in revealing presence that's spot on in creating both suspense, and eerie atmosphere.
The Road plays on the gimmick of having a horror film told from three expanded story arcs with common characters linking them all together, and in essence scores in its effort. However, horror film fans with a penchant for the same old boo scare tactics dished out by filmmakers may find this a little bit sterile. and not offering that adrenaline rush each time a scare comes on. For those who wish to explore what horror and their films mean to friends from the region.
The Road opens in cinemas on 24 May 2012.