southbound_1Year: 2015
Director(s): Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Writer(s): Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Susan Burke, Dallas Hallam
Region of Origin: US
Rating: R
Color, 89 mins

Synopsis: Five interlocking tales of terror follow the fates of a group of weary travellers who confront their worst nightmares – and darkest secrets – over one long night on a desolate stretch of desert highway. (Source)

Collected stories are mostly hit and miss, whether it’s a weak link or a poor thematic through line that doesn’t satisfy. Southbound, directed by a host of talented filmmakers doesn’t have that problem. It also doesn’t feel right to merely label the film an anthology – it feels closer to a beautifully executed exquisite corpse. Constantly transforming and evolving, the film renders a series of interconnected narratives which smartly build upon each other to explore how hell isn’t just a place, but a mindset, and that its definition varies greatly with each person. With such a rich backbone, Southbound is rooted in primal nightmares, never resorting to cheap scares to deliver a harrowing experience that’s as psychologically scary as it is emotional.

The film juggles a total of five stories, all of which take place somewhere between this world and hell. Directors Radio Silence kick things off with a segment featuring two men in the desert and on the run from strange, vengeful creatures. Roxanne Benjamin’s story picks up with a 3-piece band as they break down on the way to a gig, forcing a trio of young women to take up shelter with a strange couple who may have sinister intentions. David Bruckner’s tale is a race against time, as a man races to save a hit-and-run victim inches within her death. Next up, Patrick Horvath’s section stars an older man (The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow), as he comes to the end of a journey, finding a long lost loved one, only to find his nightmare just beginning. Radio Silence then returns to close things off with a home invasion story about a family terrorized by a trio of masked tormentors, closing the tight affair with a revelatory bang.

southbound_4What’s apparent through all of these wildly diverse stories, is how they seamlessly illustrate the idea of personal, intimate hell through a variety of harrowing ordeals. Trust me when I say that each director fully makes use of their allotted time, delivering anything from body horror, satanic ritual, against-the-clock suspense, supernatural vengeance, revealed secrets and even the torment of losing of a loved one. The center behind each scenario always remains grounded in the psychological horror of each protagonist however, making sure that the film scares deeper than loud bursts of noise or uninspired shocks, which thankfully, it never relies on. Even further, each director’s style is both unique and complimentary to one another, smoothly transforming and contrasting from segment to segment, and connecting in a way that forms a mobius strip of psychological horror. If all you want is blood and gore, there’s plenty, but each tale also has so much more to offer.

In a nutshell, there’s so much packed into Southbound’s breezy pace that I’m tempted to break things down further – but that would only ruin the myriad of surprises. I’ll just say that this is one of the very few anthology-esque films that justifies its existence and relishes in scares that resonate deeper than just shocking imagery or wanton gore, which it still doesn’t skimp out on. Thinking on the film’s surreal and cohesive world, I’m reminded of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone; like the classic series, the film creates a satisfying dimension of fear that plays by its own rules. When all is said and done, Southbound packs the punch of five solid films in one, without any weak links or wasted time. Expertly acted and vividly brought to life, this is a maddening descent into darkness that’s just too good to pass up.

SG