Opening with a trio of teens whose car wanders into an infinite cul-de-sac, Yam Laranas’ languorous creeper The Road spends most of its time going in circles, working and reworking a small set of potent images. Some verge on the absurd, like the driverless car that passes by the increasingly agitated teenagers, while others, like a bloody body with its face obscured by plastic sheeting, come from the territory where slasher movies meet the supernatural. Although onscreen titles explicitly identify two interwoven storylines a decade apart, the movie deliberately blurs the line between timeframes, so that the past seems to follow the present as well as the other way around.
The Road, which is billed as the first all-Filipino film to see commercial release in the U.S., borrows heavily from movies like The Grudge and A Tale Of Two Sisters, using unbalanced framing to suggest the presence of malevolent spirits just out of sight. Laranas was evidently working with a microscopic budget, and some of the more involved sequences feel half-finished, as if the filmmakers had to make do with fewer shots than they intended. But the prevailing mood of panic and dread keeps the movie going over the many rough patches, accumulating tension with each go-round.
Moving fluidly between gory sight gags and implied, insinuating terror, The Road is a movie made to be seen after midnight, preferably in a mildly dilapidated theater with a full house—enough for an equal mixture of giggles and gasps when a terrified young woman goes to step on the gas and finds a bloody head staring up at her from the floorboards. A revelatory flashback ties the movie’s repeating circumstances to issues of poisoned inheritance and the cycle of abuse, but Laranas is riffing on genres as much as staging a psychodrama: a smattering of procedural thriller, a dash of sadistic hostage drama, and some inexplicable ghostiness to plug the gaps.
The Road’s narrative donuts grow a bit stale at times, crossing the line from repetition into simple monotony. But the movie’s insistence works like a drill bit to the skull, and the actors’ uneven performances impart a degree of realism, as if these were real teenagers caught in a morbid nightmare, and not actors in their late 20s still clinging to high-school roles. There’s a fine line between simple and crude, and The Road weaves back and forth over it like a rattletrap with a sudden flat, but Laranas makes a virtue of his limited means, steering clear of distraction and into the heart of darkness.