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SOUTHBOUND (2015) review

February 5, 2016

southbound

 

written by: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and Dallas Hallam
produced by: Brad Miska, Roxanne Benjamin, Radio Silence, Greg Newman and Chris Harding
directed by: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner and Patrick Horvath
rated: unrated
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: February 5-11, 2016 (at Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL) and February 9, 2016 (iTunes, Amazon & VOD)

 

I don’t know about you, but each time I’ve taken a long-distance road trip, I always wind up looking around and wondering what kind of people leave way out here far removed from major cities or even one stoplight towns. Don’t worry, I keep my eyes on the road too – if anything “Southbound” has reinforced that for me.  It’s the latest indie horror anthology presents five tales of evildoers receiving their just comeuppance, friendly demon worshippers offering roadside assistance and a 911 call gone way wrong. These creepy macabre tales are more Tales from the Crypt and EC Comics than they are The Twilight Zone and intertwine in quite a creative fashion. What “Southbound” is most successful at doing is tapping into that fear of being in the middle of nowhere and realizing you’re in over your head. 

The thread throughout is the voice of a DJ (horror legend Larry Fessenden) heard over the radio in each segment. It must be the only radio station that comes in clear along the highway of this bleak Southwestern landscape and purposely provides something of a narration for the tone and feel of the anthology. Sometimes the DJ explains the min-morality lessons characters are about to receive – similar to what the Crypt Keeper is known for.

Although the anthology has three different directors helming these segments, there is surprisingly a similar overall tone consistent throughout. Usually, these anthologies showcase different styles and methodologies (the kind we find in the “V/H/S” and “ABCs of Death” movies), but I welcomes the cohesion on display here. We’re never told the title of each segment (which requires online sleuthing), but each tale is different enough, while being obviously set in the same off-the-grid location that ensnarls the good and evil characters we follow.

 

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“Southbound” opens and closes with a the strongest stories in the anthology, directed by a quartet of L.A. based filmmakers (Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Rob Polonsky, known as Chad, Mike and Rob) who call themselves Radio Silence, both written by Bettinelli-Olpin. In the “The Way Out”, we’re thrust into the frenzied daylight of two blood-stained friends, Mitch (Chad Villella) and Jack (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin), who are intent on driving as far away from the desolate desert town they seem to be trapped in. Whatever has happened to them (or whatever they’ve done), now finds them being pursued by dark, levitating creatures that appear in the not-so-far distance. The locals at the rundown gas station/diner aren’t phased by the way the these two look and don’t seem to notice these winged, tentacled and skeletal wraiths that are hunting them down. It’s a very absorbing and creative kick-off to the anthology.

We then meet three girls in a nearby motel, who’re waking up to a killer hangover, realizing it’s time to hit the road. It’s a segment called “Sirens”, directed Roxanne Benjamin (“V/H/S”), who co-wrote with Susan Burke and we learn the trio comprise an all-girl rock band called The White Tights, led by singer Sadie (Fabienne Therese, “John Dies At The End”), who must decide what to do once their van breaks down on the highway outside of town. Despite Sadie’s reluctance, Kim (Nathalie Love) and Ava (Hannah Marks “Anesthesia”) decide it’d be a good idea to take up the generosity of a seemingly square married couple, Betty (Susan Burke) and Dale (Davey Johnson) – and we notice right away that these two are waaaay too nice. When they offer to take the girls back to their home (in the middle of nowhere), viewers will be waving their red flags frantically. At the couple’s home, the girls are introduced to an even weirder couple, Raymond (comedian Dana Gould) and Bunny Kensington (Anessa Ramsey) and in a no time, two of them eat some bad Sunday roast and next thing you know they’re given robes to wear (another reason to go vegetarian).

Benjamin has an assured hand here and is able to successfully combine bizarre comedy with an increasingly unsettling atmosphere, while also offering a convincing subplot of grief involving the loss of a former bandmate that took place before we met the girls, but nevertheless weighs heavily over them.

 

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The events of “Sirens” push us into “The Accident”, directed by David Bruckner (who co-wrote/directed both “The Signal” and “Amateur Night” segment from “V/H/S”), which follows Lucas (an uncredited Mather Zickel) businessman who runs over a young woman while driving late at night in the desert. He calls 911 for assistance in a desperate effort to help the critically injured victim and things start to take a turn for the bizarre as the operator and the medical professionals (the voices of Anessa Ramsey and Justin Welborn, both from “The Signal”, Karla Droege and Maria Olsen, last seen as the creepy passerby in “Mojave”) proceed to give him a series of twisted and detailed instructions on how to save the girl’s life. It’s definitely the goriest segment of them all and one that’ll serve to inspire late night drivers to pay closer attention to the white lines on the road.

The least of the anthology segments comes next and it’s called “Jailbreak” and is directed by Patrick Horvath, who co-wrote with Dallas Hallam. It’s very thinly connected to the previous segment and follows a harried fellow named Danny (played by former Jesus Lizard frontman, David Yow), who barrels into a seedy bar looking for the sister who’s been missing for the past thirteen years. Like every segment here, things go south (see poster above) very quickly as we learn his sister, Jesse (Tipper Newton), is quite content with her occult pals. This tale was just too short and slight to make much of a difference and felt like the one short that could’ve easily been omitted from the movie.

 

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The last segment is the bookend to the excellent opening. It’s called “The Way In”, also helmed by Radio Silence and offers a backstory to what we saw go down in “The Way Out”.  It’s essentially a home-invasion tale (something quite familiar to the horror genre) that finds when masked, armed men interrupting a vacationing family, supposedly selecting this family based on something the father (Gerald Downey) has done, resulting in a violent surprise for his wife and college-bound daughter, Jem (Hassie Harrison). How this ties in to bloodied Mitch and Jack is an interesting twist, but ultimately not as inspiring as the opening segment.

Out of all the recent horror anthologies, “Southbound” is probably the most satisfying because it doesn’t jolt viewers all over the place. There’s a place for that, but it’s refreshing to see an anthology attempt a connective strand throughout each segment. Just about every segment here is well-directed with some fine writing and acting. I’ll be very interested to see what some of these directors – especially Roxanne Benjamin – does next.

The film debuted to critical acclaim at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival last September 16, 2015 and was then picked up The Orchard. It then made its rounds on the festival circuit, stopping in on AFI Fest, Fantastic Fest and the Sitges Film Festival. It’s currently in limited theatrical release, prior to its VOD release on February 9th, 2016.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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