Southbound is an anthology film that features the work of several different directors (“well, duh, danger”). Now, my immediate worry when I hear about an anthology is that I’m going to get a gem or two (if i’m lucky) amongst a bunch of mediocre shorts. Or worse. Recently, though, it seems that there’s been a bit of a resurgence of horror anthologies that have featured a few segments firmly on the “gems” side of the spectrum. I’ve enjoyed parts of V/H/S, V/H/S/2, The ABCs of Death, Mexico Barbero, and so on. So, it is with this semi-bias, that I watched Southbound. Let’s get into it, shall we?
“The Way Out”/”The Way In”, directed by Radio Silence – Two bloodied, haggard men running from a violent act that triggered hellish repercussions, drive a desolate stretch of desert highway. They are eerily stalked by black specters (spectres?) hovering in the distant heatwaves. The specters catch up to the men after they have a surreal gas station visit.
The “weight” of the digital effects in this segment is beautiful. The creepy monstrosities that haunt the hapless men are substantive and fit perfectly into their environment. This is remarkable because even huge-budget films have trouble getting this right (think, Arnold bouncing around the road in the Terminator: Genysis trailer). I didn’t necessarily love the creature design, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. The story is a great gateway for the film’s theme – bad stuff happens to people. It stays mysterious enough to keep the viewer’s attention while providing plenty of action and peril. And the bridge to the next film is clever indeed. (setting the precedent for all of the connections. i won’t spoil it)
“Siren”, directed by Roxanne Benjamin – A rock trio sets out in their shitty van from a shitty motel down the same (see above) stretch of desert highway toward their next gig in the next shitty little town. Their van gets a flat (no spare) and a kindly middle-aged couple pick them up and bring them back to their place to stay until the mechanic opens shop the next morning. 2/3 of the band think the folks are just harmless weirdos. Sadie isn’t so sure. Things go south (SOUTHBOUND!) from there. Like, really south.
These actresses nailed the “I love you, you’re my best friend, but I’m going to strangle you” vibe perfectly. They casually make digs at each other with a smile and an “oh my god, you should see your face!” The digs eventually cut painfully deep. Fabianne Therese in particular, put in a standout performance. She plays the confident but confused Sadie so well that the viewer is on her side and sympathizing with her immediately, even with very little exposition (though we are given some background). The tension ratchets up exponentially by the insane end of this great little segment.
“Accident”, directed by David Bruckner – A distracted driver hits a woman on the now familiar desert highway. She is injured badly but 911 can’t locate him. So he drives her to the nearest town, where he finds the hospital empty (along with the whole damn town!). The 911 operator connects to an EMT and a surgeon to help walk the driver through the steps necessary to save the woman’s life.
This seemingly straight-forward trauma piece is twisted into nightmarish horror in this gruesome short. And that’s not just beautifully descriptive writing from your good pal, JD. I mean, this segment feels uncannily like a nightmare that I’ve had. Maybe you’ve had a similar nightmare. Maybe inept emergency surgery is a universal nightmare subject (like hag dreams or that guy that everybody sees in their nightmares). Tapping into the most horrific of dream anxieties makes for a harrowing ride! This segment had me cringing with whatever you call the emotion that includes heavy doses of fear, anxiety, revulsion, and exhilaration.
“Jailbreak”, directed by Patrick Horvath – A desperate man wielding a shotgun forces the bartender of an unsettlingly weird seedy bar to tell him where his sister is. The man (is it a man though?) brings him to an otherworldly door to an unsettlingly weird (theme!) tattoo parlor where he finds his sister. He (very) violently rescues her. Problem is, she doesn’t really want to be rescued and he might not be able to rescue himself from this strange place.
This is the weakest installment of this anthology. It’s not bad. It’s just not as great as the others. But, honestly, the other three set the bar pretty damn high. “Jailbreak” is solidly decent. It features some really fun practical effects and a skin-crawlingly weird finale. The story is familiar, but not egregiously derivative. And though the protagonist is desperate and wild-eyed, the film never hits a level of intensity that would push the viewer to wholeheartedly invest in his plight emotionally. It’s another fun ride, it just doesn’t quite hit the high notes that the rest of the anthology hits. (oof – i feel bad giving that such a tepid review. honestly, on its own, it may have fared better)
The Final Cut: Southbound is a wildly entertaining road trip into Hell itself. The acting is solid, the violence and gore hit hard, and the stories are cleverly linked.