Monday, October 17, 2016

Tales From the Southbound

The renaissance of the horror anthology has been wonderful in spirit and mostly terrible in execution. Following the fan love for Michael Daughery's Trick or Treat, it seemed as though every genre filmmaker under 40 was contributing to one collection or another, from the grainy V/H/S series to the often insufferable output of The ABCs of Death.

Needless to say, I've found modern anthologies disappointing (and occasionally, infuriating). But that doesn't mean I've given up on them just yet. 

Story 1: The Way Out
Directed by the trio Radio Silence (they of the disappointing Devil's Due and the 10/31/98 segment of the first V/H/S), The Way Out follows a pair of men on the run from what appears to be an unidentified crime. As they speed their rickety pickup truck down a deserted highway, they are pursued by strange floating skeletal creatures that follow them right inside an ominous gas station.

We'll get back to this.

Story 2: Siren
A trio of young women break down on that same lonely highway, accepting a ride from an oddly sunny 1950s-esque couple who take them back to an ominous meatloaf dinner. Something is clearly amiss, but there seems to be an added weight in how their presumed leader played by Starry Eyes' passive aggressive rival, Fabianne Therese) is seen as being responsible for the untimely death of one of their members. Directed by first timer Roxanne Benjamin, Siren has some fun with its almost Parents-ish vibe. It also feels the most incomplete, as it offers up a lot of unanswered questions. While I generally believe one of the the keys to anthology segments (much like short stories) to be telling a complete tale in under 30 minutes, this was definitely the one story I wanted to see more of.

Story 3: The Accident
The Signal's David Bruckner directs this tight little tale about an ill-fated and too easily distracted man named Lucas whose cell phone chat with his wife leads to him smashing into a young lady in the middle of nowhere (well, Southbound's hell-ish highway). After some internal debating, Lucas calls emergency services and spends the rest of his evening trying to save his victim in an abandoned hospital with only the mysterious, not-quite-right dispatcher voices to guide him.

While it doesn't necessarily do much, The Accident was my personal favorite segment of the bunch. Mather Zickel's Lucas toes an interesting line between being a guilty manslaughterer and a poor unlucky bastard, while the ambiguity of the dispatch voices are just odd enough to keep you on edge. Anthologies are almost always morality tales, and this one serves as a different spin on that idea.

Also, death gurgles are intense.

Story 4: Jailbreak
Patrick Horvath (The Pact 2) directs this one. A raging man storms into a worn-down bar demanding to see his long-lost sister Jesse. The bartender (Orange Is the New Black's Matt Peters) agrees to drive him down that familiar highway to where Jesse is working as a sort of satanic tattoo artist (or something?). It's hard to say too much more without giving away some of the bigger happenings, but let's just say that when your little sister disappears down a highway to hell lorded over by floating skeleton people and bar werewolves, maybe it's best to leave her put.

Story 5: The Way In (aka Story 1: Part 2)A seemingly normal couple is spending a family weekend in a rented home with their teenage daughter before she goes to college. Before they can sit down to their last supper, three masked men show up for some violent payback. The story plays like a fairly standard home invasion, but much like Siren, it also drops some mysterious clues without revealing all of their details.

Overall, Southbound offers a fresh and easily watchable take on the anthology format. Each story leads into the other in an organic way and while there's not a specific wraparound tool used to tie everything together, the themes and basic idea of this purgatory-like road to hell work extremely well when all put together. The styles and tones are more complimentary than consistent, which helps the full picture add up to something fresh.

High Points
As grouches continue to whine about the lack of good horror in the modern era, one can point to the credits of the cast and crew of Southbound to show connections to a slew of good-to-great genre films of late: actors from Starry Eyes, YellowBrickRoad, The Signal, and a few more (not to mention the film's wraparound DJ voice is done by none other than Larry Fessenden)

Low Points
We can't hit all of our CGI out of the park, but sometimes it hurts when almost all of it fouls

Lessons Learned
You know, don't kill innocent people and you won't go to hell or be forced to relieve a horrible monster chase for eternity

Rent/Bury/BuyAfter my increasing embitterment over the new age of jerky bro-tastic anthologies, Southbound is an extremely pleasant little renewal of faith in the genre. The film isn't perfect, but it's a good ride. You can find it on Amazon Prime.


  1. This is not the anthology you should be watching on Amazon Prime. You should be watching a really, really low budget anthology. I'll give you a hint:

    It has things you enjoy in horror movies and they rhyme with malls. :)

  2. Wait, what did you dislike about The ABC's of Death? Of course they're all over the map in terms of, well, everything, but I thought the first one was generally consistently pretty decent with a few especially good pieces, and the second one had higher highs and lower lows -- the best stuff was excellent but the lousy stuff was junk -- but I thought the highs outshined the lows. I also like the variety, and the short times of each segment. I thought the frantic pace kept it exciting.

    Unfortunately, I hated ABC's of Death 2.5. It was pretty much all bad. I can't even remember a single segment I liked from it. But anyway, very interested to hear your take on the franchise.

    1. I liked the concept of ABCs, but found I genuinely disliked more than I even enjoyed. And that out of 26 segments, 1.5 were made by women didn't help (especially when sooooo many segments were just typical abuse to women and animals). Overall, it just brought out the worst instincts I always see in modern anthologies: this overwhelming need to be as mean as possible.

      I honestly can't remember if I saw 2! I KNOW I didn't see 2.5, but I could have sworn I watched 2 and looking through the breakdown, nothing is ringing a bell. I either blocked it out or just never actually watched it. Should I?

    2. I hear you. Your criticisms of the first ABC's are totally valid. I guess I tend to gravitate towards cruel, sadistic stuff though so that's probably part of our differing feelings on it.

      I really don't know what to suggest about ABC's 2 -- some of the segments are just total garbage (lousy story, lousy acting, zero budget), but because they're so short I think they're worth sitting through for the great ones, of which there are quite a few IMO. So considering that, I recommend it.

      However, based on your criticisms of the first, I think there are at least two segments that you would not enjoy due to sexist/cruel content. So I'm really on the fence about recommending it.

      But more than anything, I'd just like you to watch it because I want to hear your thoughts on it! Even when I don't agree with you, I just really like reading your takes on flicks.

      Final answer: I say watch it!

    3. Will do! Thanks for the very well-thought-out explanation of your recommendation!