Summary: A desolate stretch of desert highway is the setting for five creepy yarns.
Review: As far as anthology movies go, Southbound is pretty cohesive, maintaining a consistent sense of place and aesthetic throughout its five segments. It’s always been common practice for films of this subgenre to have some sort of a theme at the center, even one as nebulous and flexible as the found footage conceit of, say, V/H/S. But Southbound takes the idea a step further, creating its own twisted little universe that still manages to differentiate the individual short films within it. Their common thread is not just their barren desert setting, but the recurring presences – human and otherwise – that reside there. To say anything more would be to ruin some of the movie’s best shocks, so let’s get to the shorts.
First (not counting the prologue) there’s Siren, the story of a three-woman band whose VW Bus suffers a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Stranded with the nearest help four hours away, they quickly accept the offer of a ride and lodging from an eccentric middle-aged couple, but bandmate Sadie (Fabianne Therese) suspects something is awry. Spoiler alert: it is. Siren is a sturdily built narrative, with memorably creepy-funny touches like the pair of hulking twin man-children, but it’s also a little flat. It fails to put any memorable twists on its formula, save for an admittedly unexpected ending.
Next up is The Accident, my personal favorite of the lot. It centers on Lucas (Mather Zickel), a distracted driver who accidentally hits a young woman with his car in – you guessed it – the middle of nowhere. With the closest EMTs far out of reach, he must move and treat the woman himself, receiving increasingly gruesome instructions from a doctor on the phone. David Bruckner, the segment’s writer and director, maintains a brisk pace and spices things up by taking the action in unexpected directions. What starts out as an effective-if-conventional thriller soon morphs into something more supernatural, and the transition is handled with enough subtlety for the shift to not be jarring. Comedy veteran Zickel is excellent in the lead of what is essentially a one-man show, giving a wholly believable performance as an everyman thrust into a horrific situation.
Then there’s Jailbreak, about a brother’s attempt to rescue his sister from a strange cult. Needless to say, the premise doesn’t end there, but to avoid spoilers let’s just say there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Jailbreak is the movie’s weakest chapter; its twists fall flat and its attempt at emotional stakes is a nonstarter. There are a few visually interesting moments, but they’re not enough to redeem this dramatically inert misfire.
Anyone who’s seen the movie will notice that I’ve left out one segment: the two-part prologue/epilogue that bookends the rest of the short films. It begins as a nightmarish drive through limbo, later becomes a tightly-wound home-invasion thriller, and by its end brings the entire film full circle. Though it’s not Southbound’s best stand-alone short, it does its job admirably; both introducing us to the film’s off-kilter world and bidding us farewell with a bang.
The Verdict: It doesn’t escape the anthology movie’s curse of inconsistency, but Southbound’s quintet of spooky tales has a knack for rhythm and a killer ending. I give it six and a half highways to Hell out of ten.