Southbound (2015) review
Following a string of anthology horrors being released over the past few years comes Southbound, a mixed bag of nostalgia-laden indie horror told through five loosely connected stories of torment and guilt. A fun ride with an imaginative concept and genuinely creepy moments, this film misses on a chance to be great by betting too much on the intrigue of ambiguity. The anthological approach is admirable, and one of the most adored sub-genres in horror, but an 89-minute runtime is too small a package for this collection of stories, which feels like a cross between V/H/S and Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s Dead End.
Depending on the viewer’s interpretation, Southbound tells five stories or one five-part story about a group of loosely connected travelers as they live out their darkest moments while journeying a grim stretch of desert highway in the middle of nowhere. A pair of blood-soaked small-time criminals on the run from their past mistakes; an all-girl rock band with a dirty secret and a brush with the occult; a tragic road accident and a man’s subsequent decisions; a shotgun-wielding brother’s selfless quest to find his missing sister; and a family vacation turned home invasion with some diabolical implications all huddle together to form a compartmentalized telling of hell. All parties may not be doomed to repeat their condemning actions, but they’re all here for a reason.
Directed by former V/H/S collaborators Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin and David Bruckner, along with Entrance’s Patrick Horvath, Southbound suffers from switching gears too frequently and failing to scare at any point. The individual segments aren’t long enough to allow for proper resolution to naturally materialize, and the film as a whole, although cohesive in ways, amounts to a series of incomplete stories with quality transition shots. The fragmented, hurried approach results in a scramble of rules within the film and throws the act of building suspense to the wayside. Everything just seems to happen for no reason. It’s possible that the filmmakers intended to inject ambiguity into each story as an artistic effect, but all roads lead to head scratching instead of intrigue. Among its more excusable flaws—keeping in mind that this is a low-budget indie film—the acting is rough around the edges and the dialogue is spotty, if not cringe-worthy at times.
It’s not all bad. The synth-heavy score—undeniably inspired by John Carpenter—composed by The Gifted gives the film a retro atmosphere and the commentary of a seemingly omniscient DJ (Larry Fessenden) heard throughout the film is a nice touch. Other highlights include impressive cinematography and lighting by Tyler Gillett, Tarin Anderson, Alexandre Naufel and Andrew Shulkind, particularly in certain scenes within David Bruckner’s contribution “The Accident,” and the appropriately used special effects, underlining the filmmakers’ resourcefulness considering the film’s modest budget. Southbound also uses tried-and-true campy humor to make the viewing experience more enjoyable, which does the film a great service by letting on that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Southbound maintains a stylistic feel, despite including drastically different kinds and qualities of stories, but it doesn’t succeed in creating any feelings of dread. This is a hurried step in the right direction from the V/H/S series, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more from this crew, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The eerie imagery, throwback atmosphere and occasional imaginative storytelling warrant a viewing, but it only allows this film to break even with its shortcomings and lack of scares.