Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Road

If I turned this review over to the Boy, the page would be filled with expletives. First things first, though, this is a review of The Road. Not the 2009 Viggo Mortensen post-apocalyptic flick, but a new Filipino horror about an out-of-the-way-road that everyone seems to take a shortcut on their way home from school or shopping, or just whenever.

The story is about a young cop who gets some kind of award and promotion, and is approached by a woman whose daughters have been missing for several years. There are then three vignettes, each ten years earlier than the last, showing the history of The Road and its victims.

We didn't know it was Filipino going in. The last Filipino movies I watched were when Eddie Romero's "Blood Island" movies aired on TV all the time. They were popular with me and my buddies to riff on.

This movie isn't in that tradition, though. There aren't any Yankees to shore up the box office and it's not dubbed in English, which is probably why it ended up at our art theater. (Although we do have a sizable Filipino population here, it's not a common thing to get their movies.)

This is more in the Japanese tradition. Ghosts of unspecified power and conflicting motivations pop up suddenly, sometimes visible, sometimes not, and it's not clear as to who can see them when, and never really why. It's actually not really clear who's doing the killing in some cases since there is a living, human agent around, too.

Japanese (and Korean) films in this genre get away with this with atmosphere, shock, dread and the best ones also manage suspense and a kind of aesthetic logic that transcends the need to actually make sense. The Ring (Ringu) is probably the main impetus for (and maybe best example of) the genre which plays at your expectation for one kind of logic and substitutes another kind at the last moment.

Despite the relatively high ratings on some review sites, this movie misses the shock and suspense mark by a wide degree, and is aggressively incoherent. The final vignette, which is meant to explain motivations, is dopey, but the "twist" is even dopier, essentially destroying the characterization set up by the vignette.

There may have been a double-twist, too, actually, that the apparently human agent wasn't really human after all. I dunno. It's murky.

I thought the atmosphere was okay, but the Boy immediately spotted and disliked the shot-on-video look, and when I compared it to the lesser "After Dark" movies, he didn't think it was even at that (low) level.

The editing had the mark of a low-budget film, with certain scenes being incoherent since key shots were too expensive to film. This seemed particularly true of the few action scenes.

I though the acting was all right but again The Boy hated it. This might be because it was bad (hey, I never claimed to be an expert on acting) or it might be because they spoke a heavily accented English sometimes that had an unfortunate cadence to the native ear. You know, like, if a character's name was "Bobby", they would yell "BahBEE!".

It had a baby-ish sound to it. I just regarded it as just coincidental to English but it was jarring.

The Road is pitched as a mystery, but it's not that mysterious. Even the twist—the one that didn't make sense and was actively undermined by the rest of the movie—was obvious from the get-go. (We both saw it coming, though we were wrong in one detail.)

It's pitched as a horror but it's so low key and laid back it manages to produce the sort of effect you get from going on "The Haunted Mansion" ride for the 40th time. Today. It's like seeing the animatronic ghoul's head pop out from the grave in predictable rhythm and slow motion, so you can analyze exactly what the director is trying to do without ever being engaged by it.

The Boy would probably class it as one of the worst movies he's ever seen and—well, I've seen a lot more movies, but I couldn't really recommend it. Except maybe to a native. (The subtitles contained spelling and other translation errors. So maybe not needing them would have helped. But not that much.)

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