The dead are unquiet and the living are terrified in “The Road,” a powerfully atmospheric blend of ghostly encounters, horrific situations and missing-persons mysteries from the Philippine director Yam Laranas.
Conjuring a hushed, supernatural universe spanning two decades and three increasingly nerve-jangling chapters, this enormously assured movie sucks you in like quicksand. Impossible to predict (the less you know up front, the better), the story opens in 2008 as three joy-riding teenagers disappear at night on a deserted road, and a decorated police officer (T J Trinidad) takes charge of the investigation.
As the film crawls backward in time and deep into haunted real estate and family sickness, the color palette becomes more dense and the themes more explicit. Tightly written and spookily shot, each chapter has a distinct look and narrative arc; the three connect to one another with stretches of dread-filled silence.
Mr. Laranas has no need of crashing chords or wailing musical cues: Shivery and swift, his frights emerge from the simplest of setups, like a mattress undulating with unseen life or a spectral car gliding, driverless, along a misty highway. A fleeting encounter in the woods, filmed at medium range and with only a single, shocking sound effect, delivers a more effective jolt than any number of ax-wielding maniacs.
Though not without flaws — the wrap-up is a little rocky — this grisly tale earns its scares the old-fashioned way: by making our spines crawl instead of our stomachs churn.
“The Road” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bloody apparitions and bludgeoned women.