The first of the three episodes of Yam Laranas' The Road is the most reminiscent of the atmospheric thrills of Sigaw (The Echo, 2004). One night in 2008, three teenagers (Barbie Forteza, Lexi Fernandez and Derrick Monasterio) find an abandoned dirt road to practice driving. As they move further from the junction, a suspicious red car passes by them every so often. After noticing that the red car is without a driver, they hurriedly find their way back to the junction, but to no avail. They are trapped, and continuously haunted by the mysterious red car and a woman whose bloodied head is covered by a plastic bag.
The episode, set mostly at night in an abandoned road lighted only by the moon and headlights of occasional cars, relies on mood, on the presumed danger of being alone amidst omens and apparitions, to work and Laranas, a horror stylist here more than anything, creates an atmosphere of quiet but certain hostility.
The second and third episodes, set ten years prior to each other, forgo of the phantasmagoric for the more visceral. Physical and psychological torments, as opposed to the supernatural one of the first episode, are in the forefront. In 1998, two sisters (Rhiann Ramos and Louise de los Reyes) find themselves prisoners in the house of a disturbed man (Alden Richards). In 1988, a boy (Renz Valerio) is brought up by his domineering mother (Carmina Villaroel) and his religiously zealous father (Marvin Agustin).
From the grim greys of the abandoned road, Laranas expands his palette, creating a canvas of lush and inviting colors that only downplay the depravities that are depicted. Tying the three episodes together is the informally accepted mission of a recently promoted cop (TJ Trinidad) to investigate the case of the missing sisters from 1998.
Where in Sigaw, the violent deaths of a mother and child in the hands of an overly jealous cop has transformed their apartment building into a time-trapped capsule where the tortures and the assaults are repeated forever, in The Road, the abandoned road meets the same fate, time-trapped by victims of abject cruelty. Laranas' ghosts are not troubled spirits thirsting for revenge. They are imprints of a violent past, perpetual footmarks in a place vandalized by vile intentions.
Laranas' ambitious mapping of the place's history of brutality inevitably leads to loopholes in the story's logic and perhaps in the logic of the characters involved. Questions arise and most of them are left carelessly unanswered. However, there is more to the film than its flimsily crafted narrative web. In the scope of what Laranas attempts to achieve, he more or less delivers a story that notwithstanding the multitude of its lapses, coheres with a laudable vision of violence that by its very nature and the extent of its corruption, disrespects the laws of both place and time.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)