For those of you uninspired ramblers who have been searching for a horror anthology that truly revs your engines, Southbound is an inviting attraction along a road lined with many generic places to stop. From the minds of Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, and the Radio Silence collective come five tales of open-road horror set to the soothing voice of Larry Fessenden’s DJ narration, and the ride is surly a worthy one. The segments rarely skip a beat, and showcase the same drifting intrigue that’s created by a desolate stretch of highway that connects them all. Nothing good ever happens in the middle of nowhere, but this series of gleefully unfortunate events tends to argue otherwise with the help of some gruesome tricks, brainwashed minds, and a few skeletal demons worth a fright.
The film starts with a hellish car chase dubbed “The Way Out,” which follows two blood-drenched men (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Chad Villella) driving away from their mistakes of the previous night, with a pack of hovering Grim-Reaper-looking-reavers continually on their tail. Their chase leads them to a gas station where they attempt to clean up, but after hitting the road and running again, they end up right at the same gas station that they started at. It’s here that a quirky game of looping finality begins to set in, as the awesome reaver monsters (designed beautifully) swoop down upon the two men. “The Way Out” provides Southbound‘s most badass visual effect in this deathly moment, as Radio Silence serve up an appetizer of heart-stopping brutality and psychological torture to begin this ghastly journey.
Roxanne Benjamin picks up where the reavers leave off with “Siren,” introducing a traveling group of female rockers who strike a flat along the same lonesome highway. Their GPS provides no location coordinates (a constant throughout the entire film), so Sadie (Hannah Marks) reluctantly hops in a car that her bandmates (Fabianne Therese and Nathalie Love) already flagged down. The good-natured couple is extremely gracious, and offers any means of help necessary, which eventually leads into a cult-like situation that could spell doom for Sadie’s band. Benjamin sets some solid tension, and finds the perfectly Leave-It-To-Beaver-esque families to instigate suspicion, but predicability sets in once the all-too happy couple serves dinner. Luckily, the runtime is so short that we’re at the segment’s climax before sluggishness can slow anything down, and the short’s ending transitions seamlessly into the next story.
David Bruckner’s “Accident” is not for the squeamish, so be warned – but it’s also a psychological blast. We pick up with Lucas (Mather Zickel), a distracted driver racing down the forgotten road. In a moment of distraction, Lucas hits a young woman with his car, sending her tumbling head-over-heels. With no other option, Lucas calls 911 and goes along with the assistance he’s given, but the voices sneakily lead him to an abandoned hospital where he’s forced to perform delicate surgeries with no explanation. The voices appear to be helping, but when laughter and pseudo-taunting permeate instructions, Lucas begins going a bit mad – or was he already mad?
Bruckner’s gore is absolutely on point, as the broken, seizing victim bleeds out of a number of grotesque wounds – including a leg that’s about to tear off – but he finds an equally intriguing story in the man’s possible psychosis, brought upon by the voices. It’s a simple call for help that turns into a Twilight Zone-inspired nightmare – far more than the clinical SFX showcase you’d assume given the girl’s deformed state.
Patrick Horvath’s turn is next with “Jailbreak,” another cult-inspired story with some creature effects, more gooey bloodshed, and a rescue mission that takes a deadly turn. Danny (David Yow) is just trying to save his sister Jesse (Tipper Newton), but can you really save someone who doesn’t want to be found? The shotgun-toting hero stumbles upon a tattoo-marked cult, and while the effects are rather fun, Horvath’s story seems a little lacking on structure.
We pick up with Danny’s enraged investigation, as years have passed without much luck, yet the story then rushes to not only present Jesse, but build a demonic backstory for the strange organization. There are too many details and not enough time to consider “Jailbreak” a favorite in the anthology, no matter how much fun you have with it.
Radio Silence circles back around to close Southbound with “The Way In,” a home invasion story about a vacationing family who is attacked by masked thugs. We don’t know why they’re attacked besides one invader showing Jem’s (Hassie Harrison) father a picture of a little girl, and while I was able to draw my own conclusion, it’s handled a bit too quickly for coherency’s sake.
Jem fights the attackers, who say little while masked, but it’s merely an inevitable tie-around to the film’s vague beginning. With a little more detail given to the angry motivations that sparked Jem’s defensive stand, I’d be more in love with “The Way In” – but as it stands, effects outweigh plotting in the film’s final stage.
Southbound is tons of fun, and in the scheme of horror anthology movies, cruises along with the best of ’em. Each short is tight enough, but there’s a decline in momentum once “Jailbreak” and “The Way In” take over. These segments struggle to manage big ideas in shorter constraints, yet still have their isolated charms about them, nonetheless. I won’t say these drivers put the pedal to the metal consistently, but we’re certainly placed on cruise control for a seamless, relaxing ride straight into the dusty, back-roads of Hell.
Southbound is a crazy little open-road horror anthology that's a chilling, thrill-seeking blast, and while there are expected peaks and valleys, every short has its own horrific charms.