The Road tells a story that spans decades, going back in time ten years at a time to dig up the horrendous history that gives rise to a group of vengeful spirits that haunt an abandoned road. If we pretend that the film is an anthology with unconnected stories, then it is one of the finest horror films in recent memory. But The Road, like many horror films today, is insistent on providing some sort of twist, regardless of how little sense it actually makes. The whole package is still pretty good, but it’s difficult to ignore that particular misstep.
The film is split into three parts, each taking place in a different decade. In 2008, police officer Luis (TJ Trinidad) is investigating the mysterious disappearance of three teenagers on an abandoned road. In 1998, a young woman (Rhian Ramos) and her younger sister are abducted and held prisoner in an old house that holds deadly secrets. In 1988, a young boy is trapped inside his own house, held captive by his domineering mother (Carmina Villaroel). The boy becomes witness to some horrible things, and is soon haunted by the ghosts of those wronged. The three stories tell a much larger story, revealing the violent history that surrounds this particular road.
Individually, each segment is pretty strong. Each one goes for a different feel, and the film handles these tones with aplomb. The first part is a ghost story, and is the only segment that plays up the supernatural scares. The second segment is more of an abduction thriller, the threat far more corporeal and present. The third segment surprises with its gothic drama leanings, documenting a deeply painful childhood under the thumb of a clearly insane parent. On their own, the stories are pretty strong. It’s when they’re put together that it gets kind of sticky. The stories build up to an obvious twist, one that doesn’t really add up. It also leads to a stunning anticlimax that relies on the supposedly vengeful spirits being ineffectual for over a decade.
That aside, this is a pretty decent horror experience. The film runs a little long, but part of that is due to the film’s patience. The film isn’t just trying to shock people. It builds atmosphere and constructs horrific situations that are meant to genuinely disturb. It isn’t just about ghosts popping out of nowhere. It’s more about the creeping realization that there are some things in this world that aren’t quite right, and people are going to get hurt because of it. Laranas’ meticulously composed frames make great use of the interplay between light and shadow, setting up an eerie atmosphere that permeates every second of the film.
The cast is all right, though with the story split up, few actually get the time to make much of an impression. TJ Trinidad is fine in what is ostensibly the lead role, but it’s a mostly passive role that doesn’t push the actor very far. Barbie Forteza and Rhian Ramos work well in their respective segments, providing a solid focus for all the fear. The standout in the cast, however, is Carmina Villaroel, who drowns the screen with her presence the very moment she enters the frame. Even with the limited screen time, Villaroel really makes her mark.
The Road is the rare film where the story actually gets in the way of enjoying the picture. It’s not difficult to figure out the twist, and one might spend a majority of the picture hoping that they don’t pull the trigger and fall into that particular rabbit hole. And when they do, it’s a little easy to dismiss the film as a whole. But it would be wrong to downplay the achievement here. Taken separately, each segment is pretty great, each showcasing an understanding of horror that goes far beyond just startling the audience. That’s worth seeing, at the very least.