Directed by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and Radio Silence.
Starring Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Kristina Pesic, Dana Gould, Zoe Cooper and David Yow.
An anthology of five interlocking stories that centre on different groups of people journeying on a desolate stretch of desert
Despite the promise of the V/H/S and The ABC’s of Death franchises, neither anthology series quite lived up to the ideas that must have looked wonderful on the page. Not that they were terrible or total disasters – although V/H/S: Viral does veer that way – but they just seemed to miss that vital something that made the old standards such as Creepshow and From Beyond the Grave so much fun, leaving the Halloween themed Trick ‘r Treat and Tales of Halloween as the standard bearers for modern anthologies, but they aren’t necessarily movies that work very well outside of the season they are set in.
Southbound attempts to readdress that balance and, to some extent, succeeds. The initial premise is that the film consists of five tales of terror that are interconnected by location, this being a stretch of highway slicing through the American desert. The implication throughout the whole movie is that this area of desert is Hell and each tale is a commentary on the nature of karma, with bad things happening to those who do bad things to others, and the opening scenes play on this without overtly giving you much information as two men covered in blood are racing through the desert trying to escape from the floating wraith-like creatures that seems to be forever alongside them. This provides the first part of the wraparound story as the second story rolls up and we follow the exploits of an all-female rock band having van trouble. They are picked up by a kindly but slightly weird couple who take them back to their house, introduce them to their equally weird but still polite friends and offer them dinner. Luckily, one of the band members is vegetarian and doesn’t eat what is put in front of her, which opens up the story to reveal who her hosts really are and that meat, in this instance, really is murder. It’s a fun story with a really off-kilter feel that evokes some of the weirder indie horror movies of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and once the admittedly obvious reveal is made the film steps up with some of the horror imagery, although overall the segment does feel a little too long for what it is.
This segment then bleeds (literally) into Accident, the third story, where a man talking on the phone to his wife whilst driving hits a pedestrian – possibly someone we have seen already – at high speed causing severe injuries. Trying to do the right thing he contacts the emergency services but circumstances dictate he has to move the body to get her to a hospital. Once there the hospital is deserted but the driver is talked through how to perform surgery on the victim by a surgeon on the phone. Accident is a superbly acted piece and is probably the best overall segment, with plenty of uncomfortable body movement moments and some pretty decent gore effects, and the ending is a slight departure as by doing what he does to make things right the driver has a different fate to all of the other antagonists in the film.
Jailbreak is the next section and is the weakest of the bunch. A man brandishing a shotgun enters a bar looking for his sister. The barman says he knows where she is and takes the man to her, where we discover that the estranged siblings don’t have very much in common any more. Jailbreak borrows heavily from From Dusk Till Dawn, which will give you a clue as to its direction, in ideas and looks but as a story just doesn’t go anywhere or provide anything other than a slight downward turn before we pick up the second part of the opening story, which shows us how the two blood-caked men got to be in the situation they’re in. It’s a solid enough story that has a couple of moments but a few crucial details are left to interpretation which will likely prove divisive when it comes to audience satisfaction.
Overall, Southbound is a decent but flawed anthology that does provide an excellent setting for the stories that it tells, has some quality performances – especially from Dana Gould as the driver in Accident – and gives more than a few nods to the genre for fans to pick up on (and it makes a change for the public domain movie showing in the film not to be Night of the Living Dead for once but instead it shows clips from Carnival of Souls, which Southbound has a similar feel to in places). There are times when the film loses a little momentum and attention starts to wane but such is the curse of nearly every anthology movie out there, and despite one or two dodgy CGI effects the film does have a certain look to it that could put it alongside some of the dustier horror/faux grindhouse titles of recent years. As for how it stands up against other anthologies, Southbound is no Creepshow when it comes to consistency and is probably closer to the less inventive but still fun antics of Creepshow 2, but for 85 minutes of something fun with a few light twists and turns it isn’t bad at all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★