(Sorry for the delay on this one, but my recent streak of busy personal stuff keeps intruding on my “me time” lately… d’ohh!!)
Time for the first of this month’s Ghostly Halloween Reviews…. and a look at Philippine director Yam Laranas’ 2011 horror goodie, “The Road”. I’ve seen his earlier horror story “Sigaw”…. remade here in the US as “The Echo” and found it an interesting and entertaining piece of Pinoy horror, so naturally when this one popped up on “DVD-R on Demand” over at Amazon a month or so back, there was no excuse not to grab a copy for my own self….
Our synopsis for it goes along these lines: “Three teenagers go missing in an abandoned road after a joyride gone wrong on a haunted road. Luis Medina is the police investigator assigned to the case. In the course of his investigation, Luis finds the remains of another victim on the same abandoned road from years earlier. The corpse is identified to be that of one of two sisters who both disappeared ten years before. Luis must dig deeper into the secrets and mysteries of the ghosts lingering in the dark of the desolate abandoned road in order for him to find the three missing teens. As the truth of the story behind the mystery unravels, Luis discovers a history of brutality and murders that will shake him to the core and reveal a past better left forgotten.”
Philippine horror can be a mixed bag…. some really good, some looking more like “made for TV movies”… will this turn out to be a winner? Guess we’ll all find out, ’cause this wee Catgirl’s ready to tell ya all about it! 😉
Now this story was going to be different…. I knew that right from the start. Our director, Yam Laranas has structured his tale as a series of progressive flashbacks comprising three distinct sequences to tell the story of a series of grisly murders and the ghosts created by them that haunt this deserted stretch of an abandoned road outside Manila. It’s told essentially in reverse…. with much of what you watch hard to grasp until you pick up subtle… and some not so subtle… clues in the parts of the story from further back in the past. Yep…. wanna watch this one? Then you better pay attention…. 😉
We start in the present, at the award ceremony recognizing the heroism and dedication of Police Inspector Luis Medina (played by TJ Trinidad). It isn’t long before we find out that while he’s the current darling of the Press and “media ‘poster boy” for the Police, he’s not exactly on great terms with his immediate superiors. Seems he’s a little too independently minded and reckless for their tastes, trampling on toes far too often to not rock the boat politically and professionally. Immediately after his award ceremony wraps up, his Chief is approached by a woman asking for developments about a cold case involving the disappearance of her daughters, Joy and Lara Luna, some 12 years ago. He just blows her off with lame excuses…. as he’s apparently been doing for some time, so Luis asks his partner to retrieve the missing persons file for the case and despite being told to just drop the hopeless dead-end investigation, he starts looking into it seriously after all those years.
Almost immediately he gets a break…. but not without a horrible incident first. We switch focus to a couple of young girls, Ella (played by Barbie Forteza) and her younger cousin Janine (played by Lexi Fernandez) who sneak out one dark night along with Brian (played by Derrick Monasterio), Janine’s boyfriend to take Janine’s mom’s car out for a joy-ride for some harmless naughty teenage fun and so Janine can practice driving for her upcoming road test. They almost blunder into a police checkpoint and only avoid it by turning off the main road and opening a gate closing off a stretch of abandoned dirt road leading away into the boondocks. That of course is their big mistake…. and also their last.
Yep… this road is creepy. Oh… and yeah… it’s haunted too. Soon they are hopelessly lost, constantly being followed by a mysterious driver less red car with the tortured figure of a girl in the backseat, disheveled, beaten, and her head covered by a bloody plastic bag tied tightly around her neck. Eventually the trio finds that they are trapped… the road seeming warping back upon itself endlessly, keeping them from escaping the ghost of the girl and the car. It doesn’t take long for our group to get separated… after finding the remains of the red car… a hopeless wreck from years past and it’s gruesome inhabitant, the corpse of the girl with the plastic bag. While Janine and Brian run panicked through the woods, Ella manages to finally phone her father, begging for help, but it’s just too late. The unquiet dead are relentless, after all…
The next day, Ella’s father, along with Inspector Luis and other officers locate the car on the deserted road with poor Janine dead behind the wheel. Her boyfriend Brian’s corpse turns up nearby in a field and Ella is nowhere to be found at all. But….. they do also find the old wreck of the red car, and… surprise, surprise… the mummified body of the girl turns out to be that of the missing Lara Luna, whom her mother identifies through a heart shaped locket her shriveled corpse is still wearing. There’s also a creepy abandoned house found in the woods nearby… which Luis and fellow officer Allan search, to no avail. Yeah…. seems we need to go back a bit in time to find out about that place… and we will.
Flashback time!! It’s 1998… and sisters Lara (played by Rhian Ramos) and Joy (played by Louise de los Reyes) are driving along that same stretch of deserted road in the red car we saw in the future. They are soon in trouble, the car overheated and stalled alongside the road, before a teenage boy (played by Alden Richards) comes along and tells them they can get water for the radiator if they follow him along to his house… that same deserted place discovered in the future. Two girls… in the middle of nowhere…. being asked to come along by a seemingly nice young boy to a lonely house? Of course they go along… what could possibly happen? Why exactly what you might expect.
Yeah, it isn’t long before those pretty sisters are beaten senseless and chained in separate rooms by their psychopathic “rescuer” for some nefarious kooky reasons we can only imagine. Seriously… it’s a Philippine movie, so the more sick and perverted ideas for their captivity are left to the imagination, never explicitly presented… thank goodness. Here our film almost switches gears…. the first segment having been done as a fairly straight forward Asian style ghost story, while this one morphs into almost a slasher film. Well…. almost… but we’ll get to that.
The rest of this segment follows older sister Lara, who manages to escape, and then spend the rest of her time getting chased by our crazy killer all the while trying to find and save her sister Joy only to discover that she is already hours dead. Impossibly so, despite having been talking to her all that time through the walls of their rooms in the dilapidated house. Realizing she can do nothing to comfort her sister’s ghost or to avenge her, it isn’t long before she meets her demise in the crash of their car while suffocating with that plastic bag over her head, our killer escaping from the fiery crash unhurt.
Flash forward… and Inspector Medina brings his fellow officers back to the deserted house to search it and find young traumatized Ella who raves on and on about the car overheating…. the young man who offered them help and who murdered her sister…. Yep, seems our poor Ella is either possessed by, or channeling the troubled spirit of Lara. So…. is everything wrapped up?
Naw…. there’s still our killer after all… and the final flashback sends us back to 1988 where the tragic circumstances of his mean abusive mother, Carmela’s (Carmina Villaroel) infidelity, his father’s (Marvin Agustin) religious fervor, and the murder of a poor innocent girl named Martha (played by Ynna Asistio) all combine to set the young boy on his path towards insanity and murder. It’s a domestic situation that would have made Norman Bates proud…. with all the ingredients needed to take an abused mama’s boy and drive him to the psychopathic fear and mistrust of all women necessary to make a killer. By the time it’s done, you should already see the twist ending coming, but Neko’s not going to ruin things for you, even if you’ll probably see it coming a mile away. 😉
All that is settled in our finale as the ghost of Lara finally gets her just revenge on our murderer, foiling his escape from justice when the truth is finally revealed and driving him to the suicide he richly deserves. It’s a somewhat unsatisfying ending, especially one all the loose ends are tied up, leaving one with plenty of nagging questions about how plausible the whole story is given the actual identity of out killer. But hey…. that’s for wiser minds than this wee Catgirl’s to ponder, I was just here for the ghosts…. 😉
So… how does this one feel, once all is said and done? Hmmmm? That’s certainly a question. I have the sense that I liked it….. with reservations. The very way it was presented…. as a story told in reverse… works both for it as well as against it at the same time. Mind you, that’s a tricky way to do a story. The last time I saw this story technique used, in “Bitch Slap”, it worked perfectly. Here, not so much so. Here, the various segments seem a bit “disconnected“… not really part of the same film. The first segment…. as our kids fight for their lives against the angry ghost of the haunted road… is the most successful, I think and would be at home in just about any Asian ghost story from Thailand, Malaysia, or Indonesia. The middle one…. with it’s slasher feel… a little less so, but that just might be this wee lady’s dislike of slasher “torture porn” stuff showing through. Yeah… yeah… Ok, I’m biased… but I’d have had no problems if our two heroines hadn’t fought so hard only to die just to tie the story together. It’s all very well made mind you… with good acting, a nice creepy locale, and some good camerawork and cinematography invoking a suitably eerie sense of it all, but despite wanting to give it a better score, it only rates 3 “Meows” out of 5 for me. It’s ultimately a nice try, but one that just misses being something more than just an “average” horror film.
It’s available on DVD…. but I can’t find any reference to a Philippine release…. just a “produced on demand” DVD-R from Amazon with English subtitles burned directly onto the film rather than selectable ones. It’s a bare bones release, but probably adequate for those of you wanting to take a look… all for about 20$ US at Amazon itself. Worth a look for the fans of the genre, but no lasting classic. Ah well…. better luck for me next time. 🙂
Yep… there’s a Trailer, and here it goes!! 😉