I’ve always been a sucker for the anthology format. Bite-sized stories where you won’t know what you’ll get is a concept I’ve always liked. Just a few weeks back, when I stumbled upon this little gem called Southbound, my interest was piqued. Produced by Brad Miska of V/H/S fame, the movie boasts five segments, directed by V/H/S alums Radio Silence and David Bruckner, The Pact 2’s Patrick Horvath, and Roxanne Benjamin in her directorial debut.
These five stories of Southbound revolve around a desolate desert highway, in which the people that travel it encounter strange phenomenon from their deepest, darkest fears and nightmares. One of my favorite touches in this movie is that these tales intersect each other perfectly, stringing them all together just like a whole movie that shifts protagonists with each passing story. These segments are also brought together by way of a mysterious radio DJ voiced by Larry Fesenden and the movie Carnival of Souls playing at some point in each short.
The first segment, Radio Silence’s The Way Out, has two runaways, Mitch and Jack, escaping from mysterious creatures only to be trapped by the strange highway returning them to where they started. This eerie tale starts off the anthology strong, with enough scares and weirdness to set the tone and overarching theme of Southbound; guilt. Next comes….
Roxanne Benjamin’s Siren. This is a story we’ve seen countless times before. A group of girls with a broken-down car hitch a ride with strangers who embody every sense of the word. The creepy 50’s Americana-style family takes the girls in, maybe a little too much so, much to the horror of one of the girls. While the concept is almost a cliché, the execution here is played very well.
An escape from this creepy family runs us right into David Bruckner’s The Accident, easily one of the strongest segments in the whole anthology. The frantic attempt of distracted motorist Lucas to save the girl he hit with a car, only with the help of a 911 dispatcher and an EMT on the phone, is a horror that hits close to home. The ‘mundane’ qualities of this segment, blended with the sense of loneliness and ever-escalating dread makes this segment all the more subtly terrifying.
Patrick Horvath’s Jailbreak comes afterwards, following a man in search of his sister, plagued by demons (of the more literal kind) along the way. While the action is reasonably good, this segment feels a little too out of place for this anthology that thrives on the subtler forms of horror. This segment does shed a little light on the nature of this mysterious desert highway, so there’s that.
And then Radio Silence takes the wheel once again in The Way In, in which a family goes through a home invasion horror story, while also revealing just what is up with this place. This segment wraps things up nicely, and for me, provided a real revelatory moment when the pieces start fitting together.
A friend described Southbound as the unholy love affair of a Welcome to Night Vale script and a Twilight Zone episode with a little Quentin Tarantino sneeze thrown in for good measure, and I agree with that. The way this movie just sucks you in and give this subtle sense of wrongness from the get-go is brilliant and the same atmosphere is kept throughout its running time.
All in all, Southbound is one hell of a ride for any fan of horror and anthology movies. Who knows, you might end up coming back for more.