Southbound Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by The Orchard
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, and Radio Silence
Written by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Dallas Hallam, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, and Susan Burke
2015, 89 minutes, Not Rated
Released on February 5th, 2016
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin as Jack
Kate Beahan as Cait
Gerald Downey as Daryl
Larry Fessenden as The D.J.
The open road can be wonderful. Oftentimes those of us confined to a more urban, metropolitan area can forget that there are still thousands of miles of flat land throughout our country (America, for those reading from across the pond) devoid of high-rise buildings, traffic lights, strip malls, and WiFi signals. As someone who has driven from coast to coast more than once, I can attest to the beauty of such an expanse. At the same time, it can be unsettling knowing that, if things go wrong for you in the middle of nowhere, they can go really wrong. A desolate, seemingly endless stretch of desert highway is the setting for Southbound, the latest horror anthology from many of the minds behind the V/H/S films (though thankfully, this one is not found footage).
The first segment, "The Way Out," is directed by Radio Silence, the troupe who gave the first V/H/S its fantastic finale with "10/31/98." Two blood-covered men are on the run through the desert after what seems to have been a very violent night. Instead of fleeing from the law, however, they are instead being stalked by what look like ghostly winged skeletons. We don't know what the men have done, but it's clear the specters are out for vengeance. "They've come to collect," one guy says. "We fucked up."
The fates of the two ne'er-do-wells move us along to the second segment, "Siren," directed by V/H/S producer Roxanne Benjamin (and – fun fact – edited by Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisner). A badass female rock trio, still mourning the loss of a fourth band mate, blow a tire on their van while on a road trip. They're picked up by one of those so-nice-they-must-be-psychotic couples that promise a clean home and hot meal before helping to get the flat fixed. But what's in the mystery meat?
The climax of "Siren" bleeds into (literally) the start of the third segment, "The Accident," which is my favorite. Directed by David Bruckner (who had horror fans whispering, "I like you" to one another after his V/H/S entry, "Amateur Night"), it deals with the immediate aftermath of a car accident, and the efforts of a regular Joe to save a woman's life by following increasingly drastic instructions from a 911 dispatcher.
Next, the story veers off into "Jailbreak," from director Patrick Horvath. While it seemed to start off promisingly like a From Dusk Till Dawn-style robber-meets-monsters short, it devolves into a overacted, I-couldn't-care-less sob story of a shotgun-toting man looking for his wayward sister. Thankfully this seems to be the shortest segment, and quickly leads to the final one, "The Way In," which initially plays effectively like The Strangers (with a home invasion by mute, masked baddies) and ultimately serves as a bookend to bring the film full circle to the two bloodied men from the start.
The movie feels somewhat refreshing because of its flow. In the last few major horror anthologies we've seen (like the V/H/S, and particularly the ABCs of Death films), the vignettes simply come, one after the other, like standalone chapters in a book. Structurally speaking, his one is more akin to Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat. Similar that amazeballs Halloween classic, the stories in Southbound all occur over the course of one day and night, each leading into the next. And while a couple stories do intersect, the whole thing is mainly connected by the musings of a Wolfman Jack-esque radio host, voiced by Larry Fessenden.
With this being essentially a compilation of shorts, I can't be too harsh on the acting, even if some of it – particularly some of the deliveries and overemoting in "Jailbreak" – is downright bad. The best and brightest spot, as I mentioned before, is from Gerald Downey as the put-upon Daryl in "The Accident." It's essentially a one-person show (technically two, but one actor spends the segment in death spasms), and Downey hits the right notes of horror, determination, and disbelief at his situation. The segment also strikes the best balance of dramatic horror and gallows humor, and is similar (in tone, not content) to some of the more comically gruesome bits of 2007's The Signal, which Bruckner also co-directed.
Sometimes, however, the filmmakers seem to think they're being cleverer than they are. Early on, when two characters walk past a television that happens to be playing 1962's Carnival of Souls, it's supposed to be a sly wink and/or cute bit of foreshadowing, but it's about as subtle as a hammer to the forehead. And unfortunately, while mostly entertaining, none of the segments ever culminated with a really satisfying ending the way they have in other, better anthologies like Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow.
While it never feels super original, Southbound has enough creative talent behind it that fans of the genre and the anthology format should feel good about taking the ride.