“The Road” indeed leads to horror, as co-written and directed by Filipino filmmaker Yam Laranas, but it takes a while. Split into three sections, each set during a different decade, this low-budget shocker eventually pays off, displaying just enough narrative ingenuity to compensate for a cinematically crude and logistically sketchy deployment of the requisite blood-and-guts mayhem. Freestyle Releasing’s pickup, bound for theaters and VOD, will certainly seize the attention of international horror completists; so, too, Laranas seems bound for bigger and better scares. Still, “The Road” is a long one, and none-too-well paved at points, cinematically speaking.
After a prologue details the suicide of a freaked-out gent sitting in his car on the titular path, the first of the pic’s three parts reveals the ugly fate in 2008 of a joyriding teenage trio. Ella (Barbie Forteza), Janine (Lexi Fernandez) and Brian (Derrick Monasterio) motor past a gate onto a private county road and suffer the consequences, as a driverless car threatens to run them into the ditch before zombie-like folks with their heads wrapped in plastic spook them further. Choreography of the action here is severely stilted, alas, and the behavior of the terrorized kids doesn’t make much sense.
Flashing back a decade, the film’s second section improves on the cinematographic level, although the narrative stays stuck in torture-porn territory. Two young sisters, Joy (Louise Delos Reyes) and Lara (Rhian Ramos), mistakenly trust a young stranger (Alden Richards) to help with their car, broken down on what increasingly appears to be a supernaturally menacing road. In his old, dark house just off the beaten path, the stranger mercilessly beats one sister and chains the other, who becomes haunted by visions that may well connect to one or both of the pic’s bracketing sequences.
The third part, set in 1988, reveals the stranger as a kid (Renz Valerio) suffering, Norman Bates-style, at the hands of a sadistically controlling mother (Carmina Villarroel). This more surreal section concludes with a couple of variously clever and effective gotchas that tie at least some stretches of the pic together.
Woven into the mix are other, present-day stories — of a young cop (TJ Trinidad) and a woman (Jacklyn Jose) struggling to solve the mystery of her missing daughters — and these, too, play a part in the ultimate reveal. If the denouement seems more ingenious than frightening, it’s because Laranas lacks either the experience or the budget, or both, to make his wicked ideas resonate visually.
Moody and atmospheric, but only intermittently so, “The Road” remains bumpy on the tech side.