Directed by: Roxanne Benjamin (Siren) & David Bruckner (The Accident) & Patrick Horvath (The Jailbreak) & Radio Silence (The Way Out/The Way In).
Written by: Roxanne Benjamin & Susan Burke (Siren) and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (The Way Out/The Way In) and David Bruckner (The Accident) and Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath (The Jailbreak)
Starring: Chad Villella (Mitch), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Jack), Kristina Pesic (Sutter), Fabianne Therese (Sadie), Nathalie Love (Kim), Hannah Marks (Ava), Dana Gould (Raymond Kensington), Anessa Ramsey (Bunny Kensington / Phone Operator), Susan Burke (Betty), Davey Johnson (Dale), Mather Zickel (Lucas), Karla Droege (EMT), Zoe Cooper (Dispatch), Justin Welborn (Surgeon), David Yow (Danny), Tipper Newton (Jesse), Matt Peters (Al), Maria Olsen (Sandy), Tyler Tuione (Warren), Kate Beahan (Cait), Gerald Downey (Daryl), Hassie Harrison (Jem), Tallulah Mounce (Kathryn), Courtney Bandeko (Maid), Max Folkman (The Kensington Twins), Nick Folkman (The Kensington Twins), Karina Fontes (Alex), Roxanne Benjamin (Claire), Damion Stephens (Shane), Larry Fessenden (The D.J.).
We all know that for the most part, anthology films are a much better idea in theory than they are in practice. The best ones have a few good segments, but are somewhat deflated by the bad segments they are also inevitably there – and are often marred by inconsistent style and tone from one film to the next, which means that the films can never really build to anything. Horror anthologies have always been popular – and the good ones are usually better than anthologies of other kinds, in part because they force the directors to cram what would normally be 90 minutes worth of scares into one, compact segment, which forces them to strip away all the filler, and just give the audience the good stuff. The two most popular anthology series in recent years have been the V/H/S movies (I liked the first one, was fairly indifferent to the second, and still haven’t seen the third) and The ABCs of Death (I hated the first one, and will probably never watch the second). Thankfully, the new film Southbound comes from some of the people behind the V/H/S series, and while I don’t think it reaches the heights of the best segments in those films, it is more consistent in tone, style and quality across its 4 segments. It’s hardly a great horror film, but it is a quietly creepy one – particularly in the first few segments.
The film opens with a mysterious segment – directed by the collective Radio Silence (who made one of the better segments on VHS – and then the not very good feature, Devil’s Due) as two men in a car, driving down a lonesome stretch of parched, desert highway – are haunted by mysterious wraiths, floating on the side of the road, before the stop at a rest stop, and then hit the road again, only to end up at the same rest stop again and again. This segment sets up the movie – and its themes, quite well. All of the stories will take place along this desolate highway, one leading to the other, and all will touch on themes of guilt, as the characters are haunted by things they cannot escape.
The next segment is one of the two I genuinely really liked. Directed by newcomer Roxanne Benjamin, it tells the story of an all-girl band, whose van gets a flat tire, and are seemingly trapped on the lonely highway – until a way too friendly couple stops and offers them a ride. That couple is, of course, not really that nice – and soon, one of the girls is running for her life – yet still haunted by what happened to the fourth member of the band.
The third segment is the best of the bunch – as a man, not paying attention and talking on his cellphone, runs over a young woman in the middle of the highway, and then tries to save her life – by calling 911, and then staying on the line with them as they talk him through what to do to get her to a hospital – and then what to do when he gets there, and finds it mysteriously deserted. This segment gets bloody as hell – the poor young woman’s body keeping breaking down more and more, with blood spurting all over the place. Directed by David Bruckner – who did my favorite segment, Amateur Night, of the original V/H/S – this mini body horror movie is just about perfect.
It does, unfortunately, lead into the films worst segment – The Jailbreak, directed Patrick Horvath – about a man, who enters a bar, looking for his long lost sister – who ends up getting more than he expected. This segment is the most obvious of the group (and none of them are exactly original), and dullest – which is odd, because it’s also the one that embraces the supernatural the most overtly. The segment leaves little impact however. Finally, the film loops back to Radio Silence, who do a competent, but not much more, home invasion story (set in a motel room), before returning to the beginning of the movie, and spelling things out too clearly for my taste.
So Southbound is basically five segments, and two of them are genuinely creepy and frightening, and the other are at least competently made, and executed. What’s more, none of them stand out as being off the wall or inconsistent with the rest. That is one of the problems with something like VHS, and its sequel, as each director has a wildly different take on the genre, so the frights don’t build. In Southbound, despite it being an anthology, it does feel like its all part of a cohesive whole – so even the weaker segments don’t drag the rest down that far.
Southbound is hardly a great movie – but it is a fun, low stakes horror movie, directed with style and atmosphere. Yes, it gets bloody, but it’s bloody in a clever way. The whole thing is satisfying, without ever being great. Still, if Southbound 2 ever gets made, I’ll watch it.