Opening for travel on May 11 (in limited theaters, VOD, Netflix and more) from Freestyle Releasing is Yam Laranas’ R-rated Filipino horror The Road, a supernatural chiller that’s a trilogy all within one movie! It’ll play in select markets including: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.
While my review doesn’t hit until Friday, I can tell you that I think this movie is absolutely worth your time. It’s scary, evocative, beautiful and doesn’t pull its punches. I recently hopped on the phone with director Laranas to discuss the film’s themes, imagery and his approach to its non-traditional structure.
“‘The Road’ tells the story of a twelve-year-old cold case that is reopened when three teenagers vanish while traversing an infamous and abandoned road. As investigators try to find leads to the whereabouts of the missing teens, they also unearth the road’s gruesome past that spans two decades – a history of abduction, crimes and murders.” Carmina Villarroel, Marvin, Agustin, TJ Trinidad, Rhian Ramos and Barbie Forteza all star.
Head inside for the interview.
I wanted to start off with one of the signature images – the head in the bag. It pops up in various ways throughout the film. Was that the first image that popped into your head?
When we were trying to develop the script and I was thinking of the unique visualization of ghosts, it was a conscious thing where I didn’t want to do anything similar to the Asian horror films out there. Face ghosts, girls, spinning banshees, stuff like that. I was thinking about the best way to shoot it, and I remember these images I’d seen in Time/Life Magazine that were very creepy. And I kept wondering what was behind the face that defined what that sensation was. And I’m a great fan of the Belgian surrealist Magritte, and he had a painting similar to that one. It’s called “The Lovers”. It’s just peculiar because the images that I wanted were pretty much what I saw in the painting. And I sort of took off from there. He’s got a lot of that in his paintings, hooded figures and faceless people. It’s also sort of similar to Abu Ghraib, which was another image that was stuck in my head. All of that stuff really fascinated me and I thought it was creepy so I pushed the idea.
I like it because you don’t see their expression and you don’t see what they look like. You have to fill in the blanks and it creeps you out.
It also evokes suffocation.
Exactly. Also claustrophobia. It’s very claustrophobic, literally. And there’s a lot of those elements in the film. A lot of tight spaces and then all the sudden you go wide – but you’re still trapped in the road. Or you eventually wind up in a very small house. All of these images are very present in the film. You go up for air for a little bit before you’re pulled back down.
The structure of the film is really interesting because it almost feels like an anthology. It’s one story in three distinct pieces, the acts are compartmentalized. How did you settle on that method of telling the story?
The first thing we thought was, “let’s not do twists.” I don’t want to do twists. If there are surprises in the ending, that’s fine. If it’s thought provoking, let the audience decide for themselves. Let us not come up with twists. But when we were writing it I was drawn to a non-linear method of storytelling. Primarily because I’m a big fan of Ghost Story from the 70’s but you always get to see the ghosts in these movies. They scare you or give you the creeps and then what really happened? We’ve seen that in Sudako and The Ring and so on. But I was interested in the idea of [the audience] first spending time with these ghosts while they were living. What if you invest some sympathy with these ghosts while they were living? What would be your emotion? What would you feel?
And that wouldn’t have worked if I couldn’t have reversed it. I respect the audience. I know that the audience can think, I know that they’d like to think. I kind of trusted it and let it go the way I wanted it to.
The beginning of the film has a kind of innocence, it almost feels like an Amblin movie where these kids are discovering something new.
I like the Amblin reference, it’s interesting because some of the audience thought that the weakest part of the film was the beginning because it’s just another ghost story with kids running around. Is this Wrong Turn? Is this Jeepers Creepers? Yes and no. The idea was to bring in the characters as realistically as possible. It doesn’t matter if they’re irritating. Even if I put valley girls there it doesn’t matter to me because I’m contrasting it with something that’s the opposite. You have to get these kids involved in the adventure so you get involved in the drama of kisses, lovers, stealing cars, driving and so on. And that sort of prepares you for the unprepared, very banal things. Very trite. And then all of the sudden the fantasy of the ghost is now the reality for these kids.
I’ve always been fascinated with people doing regular stuff. You go to Ralph’s, and then all of the sudden there’s a ghost. It’s like, “what the f*ck?!” To me that was the idea. And the actors were fantastic. They were just giving a lot. They’re kids, they’re innocent, they’re careless. Then all of a sudden you put in this contrasting element. Like a big cat and a lab rat. The reality is now the fantasy.
You’re the also the director of photography, and there’s a lot of nature shots. These seemingly Terrence Malick influenced shots. Do you want to talk about the visual palette for the film?
The very basic idea I have is that you let the audience get engrossed with beautiful landscapes and nice photography which is counterpoint to what they’re expecting in the film. You show them beautiful shots, beautiful imagery and nice landscapes. But that’s just the curtain over the horror inside the film. I wanted the audience to think I was moving forward, but I’m doing the opposite. Like you see me go away, but I’m right behind you.
Like the clouds moving in the sky indicate the forward passage of time?
Kind of like that. The visuals are sort of preparing you, but trying to lose you in that world. I didn’t want to just show creepy roads in the daytime and dried branches and so on. Crows flying and all that. I wanted the road to be seen as something beautiful, because once the audience sees it that way they forget what they should be feeling. I like that because I like a tug of war of emotions. I like when you feel good about an image or a shot but there’s something really dark around it. That’s why we didn’t go for twists, we wanted our story to be the twist. I’m first and foremost a cinematographer and I can tell the story best if I’m the DP. Again, one of my inspirations is Magritte, and then a lot of paintings by Rembrandt. But that’s just the skin covering the blood and bone underneath.