A powerful variation on the multi-story film. ‘Southbound’ is five horrific stories, each of which fades into the next. Some of the story types are familiar, some new. All take place along or around a nearly empty California highway without a number. Six writers, four of whom direct the film, give us a well-made and weird horror film.
Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
‘Southbound’ opens in the middle of a story already in progress. Two men splattered with blood are driving down an empty highway apparently haunted by what look like black rags that seem to be hanging from the sky. When we get a better look at them, we see that they are hellish demons who seemingly come out of the ground. As we watch the story, we suddenly realise that the characters have changed and there was a smooth transition to the second film without us realising it. Soon it becomes clear that each story will smoothly pass the baton to the story that follows it. One story after another goes by and most are creepy as all get-out. There is little explained about the stories and somehow that makes them all the scarier. One family eats unidentified and unidentifiable meat that cause pairs of people to synchronise with each other. Sometimes the ground cracks open for little reason, unless it is to create a passageway to Hell. Each story is recognisable as a separate story only after it is over.
Some of the stories at least start in familiar territory. One has three girls from a girl jazz band having a tire blow-out on the seemingly endless road that is common to all the stories. Just in time, they get an offer of a ride from some seemingly nice people. That start has been done many times before, but where the story goes is all ‘Southbound’s own. Another story has a careless driver knocking down a pedestrian and having to perform surgery on the victim guided by a doctor on a phone connection. Things do not go well.
Present in this film are many elements of different sub-genres of the horror film. There is the supernatural, there is a monster, there are demons, there is a house invasion and devil worshippers show up. This film is a Whitman Sampler of sub-genres of the horror film.
The same morbid atmosphere continues from story to story which is a little surprising since there are different directors for each story with Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, and someone who chooses to be called ‘Radio Silence’ each directing one segment. Each but perhaps the last took a hand in writing the film. Hanging over all the stories is a bizarre commentary by a radio talk host played by Larry Fessenden.
This film is the great-grandchild of the old horror anthology films (eg ‘Tales From The Crypt’) made by Amicus in the 1960s and 1970s). But where Amicus created their horror by implication, ‘Southbound’ goes straight for the throat, at times, literally. It is strong stuff and maybe these days a horror film has to be. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper