APRIL 30, 2012
I don’t usually look at the director’s filmography before sitting down to watch a film, because I figure if it meant anything to me I’d remember. Luckily, while Yam Laranas’ name rang a bell, I couldn’t quite place it until after I had come home from seeing The Road, and saw that he was behind Sigaw as well as its remake The Echo, two films I quite liked. So it’s a good thing I was ignorant - had I known that, I may have been more excited for this one, and thus would have left even more disappointed than I already was.
The Road is broken up into three parts (each taking ten years apart), which gives it a bit of an anthology feeling. The first takes place in 2008, and focuses on three youths who find themselves on a deserted road and menaced by what appears to be ghosts as they attempt to get back on the main road. It’s the best segment, in my opinion, as the characters are likable and the scares are at their most effective – the ghosts are creepy as hell, in fact. Their heads are covered with bloody plastic bags, and they have a tendency to appear in impossible places (under the gas pedal!), which raises the tension nicely as our three kids are seemingly never safe. Plus, of course, we don’t really know what’s going on, so there’s additional panic from that.
Unfortunately, the 2nd and 3rd parts go about explaining that, and the more we know, the less interesting the movie becomes. In part 2 (1998), two OTHER girls around the same age are traveling that road, and run into car trouble. Being a horror film, the first person they see and ask for help is also a killer, and then we’re treated to 20 minutes of two girls screaming and getting smacked around. But we know they’re goners because of the present day scenes, so it lacks the tension of the first part, and gets far too repetitive to boot – I just wanted it over with so we could get to part 3.
Sadly, if anything part 3 is even MORE of a chore, because now we’re in 1988 and seeing why our killer from part 2 is so evil, almost trying to make him sympathetic. Even if this was interesting it would still be an awkward way to tell the story, but it just comes down to the usual motive lifted from Psycho – his mother was a deranged woman who thought all females were filthy, locked him in a closet, made him clean up her messes… everything but the cross-dressing, really. Also, considering the way the 1998 segment ended, by now any good horror fan would have figured out the film’s central twist, which seems to be the only reason for this particular structure. Thus, much like Intruders (which I saw in this same screening room, oddly enough), you have a movie with an alienating construction that serves to hide a twist that is far too easy to figure out – not exactly the best approach for me. I’d rather not know anything than know everything long before I’m supposed to.
Not only was I too ahead of the movie, I was also getting restless - this sucker is LONG. A lot of Asian horror flicks run closer to two hours than the American standard of 88 minutes, but it's not an issue if the story's compelling. However, when there's not a lot to it, you start to feel every minute of the 110 minute runtime, and several things drag. The second act in particular could be trimmed down, unless you haven't yet grown tired of girls screaming while being held against their will. I was also starting to get pretty tired of seeing the damn road over and over - it's not a particularly long stretch, and it's blocked off for reasons that are never explained (they over-explain everything else, why not this?), which makes it feel like a contrivance for contrivance's sake. And yet, if the editor was a bit more vicious, I might have been too caught up to notice.
But I'm glad to see that a foreign language horror film is getting a decent theatrical release here in the US - it's been quite a while. Also I should note I'm in the minority; lots of pals and critics I trust have enjoyed it. I also couldn't help but think of Wind Chill, which not only also dealt with a strange road and ghosts, but was a movie I really didn't care for the first time around only to enjoy it a little more on video. So maybe this will play better a second time around - I'd certainly like to watch the first part again at any rate. We'll see.
What say you?