A new horror anthology by the folks who brought us VHS and its sequel? Looks like we’re headed Southbound.
Let’s bitch it out…
Anthology films are a rarity these days (horror appears to be the sole genre keeping the format alive) but my main issues with them persist. They’re a qualified risk: sure you’re seeing one movie, but in reality what you’re seeing is really a series of shorts that ideally have some kind of tenuous connection. In truth, though, each short stands on its own and a few bad ones can make for a really bad experience.
In this capacity I would argue that Southbound fares about average: two of the shorts are great, one is pretty good and one is flat out bad. The movie is comprised of four in total, as well as a bracketing device. In each, at least one character crosses over from one to the next to provide a kind of continuity, although only the first and second shorts share a meaningful connection. Each of the shorts is geographically tied to the road and several involve road trips South down the highway.
While the film is clearly set in modern times, Southbound has a slippery relationship with technology. In horror films of days past, cell phone signals were frequently (and conveniently) lost when the plot dictated that characters remain isolated. In Southbound the phones never fail, but the GPS often does. Narratively this is explained by the Bermuda Triangle-like setting (events frequently occur that defy reality), but there’s always a nagging feeling that the failed GPS feel like the writers’ latest and greatest BS ploy to strand their characters in the desert.
Still, it’s an easy to forgive plot contrivance when the scares are good and in Southbound they frequently are. The shorts are mostly fast-paced and well-edited; the action rarely takes long to get going and once it does it’s usually full-on until the next story takes over. In some ways it feels like a slightly less interconnected Trick’r’Treat, the fantastic Halloween anthology from 2007. In place of dress-up conventions, we’ve got a variety of sub-genres, including devil worship, highway vehicular manslaughter, and home invasions with a supernatural twist.
The first short – featuring a girl band trio who hitch a ride with the wrong folks – and the second – an inspired one-man act involving a driver forced to do increasingly terrible things by emergency services on the phone – are both great. The bracketing story is a mixed bag: the opening is intriguing, but by the time it comes back around the outcome, by its very nature, is predictable and only those who weren’t paying attention will be surprised. Despite this, however, the violence of the home invasion really resonates and the scares work well. Only the third short, featuring a brother seeking his missing sister in a no man’s land of creatures, backwater bars and tattoo parlours completely misses the mark; the desperate collage of horror tropes aren’t scary, they’re incoherent. The story is a mess and the characters fail to gel in the short-runtime, which leads to a disappointing sag in the mid-to-late stages of the film.
Despite this nearly fatal miss, overall Southbound works. More polished than the found-footage horror films of recent years, this anthology is solid, well-made and genuinely tense. It’s worth a watch.
Southbound does not currently have any other release dates scheduled.