Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Hovarth & Radio Silence
Starring: Chad Villella, Kristina Pesic, Hannah Marks & Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
Synopsis: Five interlocking tales of terror follow the fates of a group of weary travellers who confront their worst nightmares on a desolate stretch of desert highway.
Rating: 18 Duration: 85 minutes Release date: 8 August (UK)
By default most horror anthologies are a mixed bag. Ideas are dragged out for too long and occasionally they seem like an excuse for directors to stroke their ego rather than tell a good tale. The stories can be muddled and suffer from having little to no connection, interestingly Southbound features five stories that have a connecting thread which keeps viewers absorbed enough to see it through to the end.
As two men blaze down the highway an ominous announcement from the radio declares that no matter how far you drive you can’t escape your demons. We see the two men panic stricken and blood soaked, but it is unknown to the audience exactly how they got to be in this state. As they travel down the highway we see several floating demons watching them from afar as they struggle to find a way off the open road and into some form of safety.
Their story; The Way Out, opens Southbound and sets a precedent for what we can expect here. It’s an interesting tale that sets up the rest of the film, but feels like one of the shortest segments and is blunted somewhat by its own abruptness. It’s an interesting opening as Mitch and Jack struggle to evade the floating demons that seem to be keeping them trapped in a purgatory like state.
As The Way Out closes, the film bridges nicely into Siren where we meet an all female rock trio who are on a long trip to their next gig and struggling to cope with the death of their friend and fourth band member. On their way to the next town they break down on the highway and hitch a lift from a married couple eager to take the girls back home. What works here is that even in its 20 minute span we get to know these girls well and feel for them as their plight continues; a feat regularly not achieved by even the best horror films.
Once more, one segment leads to the next by a thread that I won’t attempt to spoil for anyone and Southbound showcases its best story so far in the thrilling The Accident. As Lucas talks to his wife on the phone he fails to notice the young girl standing in the middle of the road. After hitting her, Lucas struggles to know whether to run or do the right thing and call 911. In calling 911 The Accident unravels into a brilliant story where Lucas enters an abandoned hospital and is instructed on how to try to save the young girl by various voices over the phone. The Accident works because it amps up the tension and paranoia while playing out at a blistering pace.
While not as good as the other segments, Jailbreak follows Danny as he attempts to take his sister back, believing she has been kidnapped and held against her will. Perhaps the most supernatural of all the offerings, Jailbreak drags its idea out for longer than it should and doesn’t have the impact that Siren or The Accident had.
Southbound comes full circle with The Way In. Here, a family are on a final vacation before their young daughter leaves home only to have it interrupted by a home invasion by three masked men seemingly out for revenge for a prior misdemeanour. It’s here that all the individual strands come together. It’s an unrelenting end played out at a wicked pace and while it does reveal some answers to the various plot points, it also keeps audiences guessing and refuses to answer everything.
Southbound works because it differs from other horror anthologies by connecting its various stories. It also works because it doesn’t drag the idea out for too long and keeps things tight through good pacing and a run time that allows each director to fully tell their story. Of course, not all the stories hit the mark, but even these are intriguing enough to keep viewers entertained. And when compared to the misery suffered watching The ABC’s of Death it’s refreshing to see an anthology stay so gripping for so long.
- Audio commentary