"A clever, cohesive, and haunting horror omnibus.”
Time and time again, the cinemas remind us to be more wary when travelling in dark desolate highways. Once again, Southbound, a horror anthology from directors Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and the collective Radio Silence, reiterates that reminder. A surprisingly solid and cohesive omnibus, the film features five chilling tales about people running from sin, guilt and regret, while travelling on and around a dusty desert road.
The film begins with the Radio Silence’s “The Way Out.” Two blood-drenched men (Matt Bettinell-Olpin and Chad Villella), who obviously spent a long and dangerous night, seeks refuge in a truck stop. After cleaning themselves up and hitting down the road again, they are suddenly chased by giant winged skeletons. They drive and drive around, only to end up at the same roadside diner. It seems that the only escape is by getting caught by the evil creatures.
Benjamin’s “Siren” is about an all-female rock band (Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks) who, despite still mourning with the death of their fourth member, continue on with their tour. However, their van breaks down in the desert and they are left with no choice but accept the generous offer of a passing old-fashioned couple. By dinner, they eat with the company of neighbors and a pair of male twins. While one of the trio, being a vegetarian, passes off the meal, the other two enjoys the food. Little do they know that they will soon become participants of an ancient ritual.
“The Accident,” directed by Bruckner, is perhaps the film’s best short. Here, a businessman driver named Lucas (Mather Zickel) who is quite busy talking on the phone with his wife runs down a young woman on the road. He calls 911 but due to GPS failure, the operators on the other line instruct him on what to do. Thus, Lucas finds himself rushing the still-breathing body into a nearby town, only to find that the local hospital is abandoned. Later, he performs surgery on the body, only to realize that the guiding 911 voices are not who they really are.
The fourth feature, Horvath’s “Jailbreak,” is about a shotgun-wielding man (David Yow) who has been searching for his long-lost sister. After bickering with some bar patrons, he is taken to a bunker where he is reunited with his sister (Tipper Newton). He rescues her but is only disappointed to find out that she does not need rescuing and that her new world holds a dark secret.
Completing the anthology is “The Way In” by the Radio Silence. Middle-class parents (Gerald Downey, Kate Beahan) want to spend one last weekend with their college-bound daughter (Hassie Harrison), However, their short stop in a desert inn turns horrifically bloody as a group of masked men home-invaded them.
Southbound is unnaturally clever, playfully cohesive and stylistically consistent. It has wise structuring, especially with how it appears to take on a full circle towards the end. Aside from the commentary of a radio DJ (Larry Fessenden) that unifies them, tales are intelligently connected by having overlapping situations or characters carried over from one to the next. It avoids cheap spur-of-the-moment shocks and cheesy humor. It is serious in its craft and in giving genuine chills.
The shorts also tackle suspense and horror in different ways. While the first tale goes action, the second is more of a light mean-girls type which turns dark in the end. “The Accident” is all about gore (imagine manual surgeries!). The fourth one, the film’s weakest tale, does not register well with its family tale, as well as the fifth one. Yet, each one boasts consistent strong horror.
Production designs and special effects, though modest, are inventive and truly scary. While “Siren” gives so much goosebumps, “The Accident” bathes in blood. The first and last tales offer unforgettable new monsters – those flying cactus-looking skeletons who mercilessly feed on their prey.
On the downside, the film has some minor flaws. In essence, the tales are not able to clearly explain some matters or give explanations to some “why” questions. Some things are kept secret (like what the masked men whispered to the couple’s ears) or are not plainly told (the ancient ritual). Maybe, it was deliberately done to add more intrigue to the narratives.
Performances are generally believable. Outstanding ones are delivered by Therese, Zickel and Harrison.
Southbound is an intelligent horror movie. It is spine-tingling or gut-wrenching, contemplative, and undoubtedly haunting.
Production: Willowbrook Regent Films
Cast: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Hannah Marks, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Mather Zickel, David Yow, Tipper Newton, Kristina Pesic, Kate Beahan, Gerald Downey, Hassie Harrison, Dana Gould, Susan Burke, Davey Johnson, Anessa Ramsey, Karla Droege, Roxanne Benjamin, Zoe Cooper, Justin Welborn, Matt Peters, Maria Olsen, Tyler Tuione
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Screenwriters: Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Hallam, Patrick Horvath
Producers: Roxanne Benjamin, Chris Harding, Brad Miska, Greg Newman, Matt Bettinell-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez Chad Villella, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Executive producers: Christopher Alender, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Malik B. Ali, David A. Smith
Directors of photography: Tarin Anderson, Tyler Gillett, Alexandre Naufel, Andrew Shulkind
Production designer: Jennifer Molle
Editors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Jason Eisener, Tyler Gillett, Patrick Horvath
Costume designer: Dominique Dawson