MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Southbound’ Is A Decent Grab Bag Of Horror Cinema

southbound feature

Film: Southbound
Directed by: Roxanne Benjamin, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Starring: Mather Zickel, Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Opin, Larry Fessenden

The road to redemption is filled with potholes like demons, satanic cults, and masked villains. That much we’ve learned from the horror genre up until now, right? Southbound takes those familiar genre stamps for face value, delivering themes like fighting with your past in an incredibly blunt way—so blunt that a DJ (the legendary Larry Fessenden) croons out things that mirror those themes, just to make things a bit more clear. Underneath the heavy-handedness are a few morsels of inspired genre fun, though. Southbound, like many anthology horror features, is hit and miss based on each segment.

From Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and the Radio Silence team comes five interlocking tales stretched over one dark patch of desert highway. Two men try to escape from a desolate town, only to find out they’re stuck in a surreal loop. Three friends pop one of their tires on a roadtrip and find themselves on the receiving end of one creepy couple’s mysticism. A man hits a girl with his car and is forced to take desperate measures to save her. A man tries to save his sister from a cult, only to find that she’s in too deep. And finally, an idyllic family weekend turns into unspeakable horror when a man, his wife and daughter all become subjects of a gang of violent stalkers.

There’s this overarching thing in the narrative where no matter how much a character atones for what they’ve done, they still get what’s coming to them, and maybe worse. A nice sentiment, of course, but that kind of narrative insistence drives the five stories to pretty dark places. All of the stories interlock in such a way that they smoothly transition from one to the other. A nice trick, sure, but it helps to build up a sense of claustrophobia despite the long stretch of highway that most of the tales take place on.

Radio Silence’s introduction “The Way Out” focuses on Mitch (Chad Villella) and Jack (Matt Bettinelli-Opin), two bloodied-up friends who get followed by deadly creatures while travelling through some desolate part of town. The concept is simple: Show that things aren’t all right by slowly shoving weird things at the characters. Then, build all of that up to some shocking climax. The climax is fine, the build up is fine. It’s all fine. A familiar concept done familiarly.

southbound siren

“Siren” is the second feature, directed by Roxanne Benjamin. A trio of girls (Hannah Marks, Fabianne Therese, and Nathalie Love) in a band get invited into a couple’s home after their tire blows out on their van. Things take a turn for the weird when two of the girls start showing symptoms of sickness and obedience to the couple. When things start getting weird in this, the peculiarities feel staid instead of interesting. Like if you just started twitching for no reason just to get a reaction out of your friends. Anyway though, Benjamin does a really good job at dropping the hammer towards the end.

“The Accident,” the third (and my favorite) vignette, starts off with Lucas (Mather Zickel) hitting a girl with his car and proceeding to do everything in his power to save her life. With 911 on the phone, Lucas is forced (?) to operate on the girl after stumbling upon a deserted hospital. Zickel is in top form here in a story somewhat mirroring Craig Zobel’s infuriating 2012 film, Compliance. That line between doing what people say and making independent decisions in dire situations is constantly crossed and it’s a romp to see Lucas try to come out of everything morally unscathed.

“Jailbreak,” Patrick Horvath’s entry into the series, is probably the most twisted of the five tales. Danny’s (David Yow) search for his sister, Jesse (Tipper Newton), unveils a pretty violent sect of supernatural beings. It’s dirty, bloody, and really couldn’t give a care about anyone getting out alive in the story. That kind of filth is welcome in a series of tales mostly interested in certain people’s plights.

southbound way out

The last feature, “The Way Out,” also directed by Radio Silence, turns everything into torture porn. Whether or not you want to endure people being sadistically tortured after the first four features is a big question for you to answer. Luckily though, the Radio Silence team has such a firm grip on the material that I can’t imagine anyone else wrapping up this series as well as they did. If you think this is a “calm after the storm” kind of vignette, then you’d be terribly mistaken.

Southbound, as it stands, is a series of shorts ranging from okay to decent. If the purpose of the project was for up-and-coming directors to show off that they can handle a concept, then most of the people behind these shorts should hopefully have narrative projects lined up. If you’re looking for something that breaks the mold and offers something unique in anthology horror, then you should probably skip this.

GRADE: C

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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