“Regret and remorse, amends and atonement – that’s life, right?”
I like anthology horror films. The best of them are usually the product of a singular vision – like Romero/King with Creepshow or Trick ‘r Treat or the Amicus films – but I’ve also enjoyed segments of more recent group efforts like V/H/S 2 and Holidays. They’re not as consistent, but the odds of at least one segment being a standout is pretty high.
Southbound is actually a collaboration between some of the same people involved in the first V/H/S – including Radio Silence, who directed my favorite segment of that film, “10/31/98.” (It also includes a segment by David Bruckner who directed my LEAST favorite part of V/H/S, “Amateur Night.”)
Amazon again. I believe it’s also available on Shudder and Hulu for subs. The picture quality was fine, but that’s not really a reason to watch this film. The cinematography is competent and serves the story well, but it doesn’t stand out. There’s a UK Blu-ray release, but if you want it on physical media in the US it’s DVD only (though it does include a bunch of extras).
There’s no framing sequence for Southbound, instead the individual segments are connected in a way that reminds me of Trick r’ Treat or maybe more like Tales of Halloween. They all seem to take place in the same general area and there’s a connecting thread of a radio DJ, though in this case it’s Larry Fessenden instead of Adrienne Barbeau. They also have a more direct connection in that the end of each leads directly in the beginning of the next. A standout for me was the soundtrack by The Gifted which reminded me a bit of classic 80’s horror films (and a little of Disasterpiece’s score for It Follows). Each segment feels pretty consistent as well, with none of the extreme tonal shifts I might have expected from a film with multiple directors – it all works as a whole.
“The Way Out”
Two men, bloodied and beaten, drive a deserted desert highway, followed by strange creatures floating in the desert landscape. They stop at an isolated gas station/motel to clean up, but when they try to leave somehow the road always returns them to the station. Mitch, the passenger, gives up and returns to the motel. The driver, Jack, is not so lucky.
Okay, mysterious, interesting. The CGI creatures are fairly good and creepy. The ending, with Mitch running through the same hallways trying and failing to get to his daughter suggest some kind of punishment for… something. No real information is given about who these guys are or why they’re being stalked by horrible death ghosts, but it’s early days. Meanwhile…
…in another room at the same motel a band wakes up and hits the road. The three women break down in the middle of nowhere and, faced with a night in the desert, accept an invitation from a slightly kooky couple to spend the night at their nearby house. Sadie thinks she hears the woman mention their dead friend, Alex – but Ava and Kim hear nothing. After a strange dinner with local neighbors (and their extremely odd adopted boys) both Ava and Kim become horrifically sick. Ava is unaffected, having not eaten the burnt ‘meat’ of the meal. Forced to stay by the weird and lethargic behavior of her bandmates (who seem to blame her for the death of Alex), Ava has a dream about Alex being killed by a car. She awakes to find her friends gone and leaves the house to find them participating in an occult ritual with the couple and the neighbors.
I’m starting to think that these won’t be actual stories. This segment is interesting and eerie and the house/people elicit all kindsa “nope” sensations from me (and Ava), but I’m still missing details. A plot. A rise and fall of narrative. It’s not necessary, I guess – the segments of an anthology function like short stories and in Poe’s definition short stories only have to convey a mood or an idea. These definitely convey mood.
Ava is heard and chased, but manages to flee to a road where she sees the lights of an oncoming car…
…driven by Lucas, who is so distracted by talking to his wife on his phone that he doesn’t see Ava until it’s too late. He calls 911, but is unable to tell them where he is and so the dispatcher tells him to transport the gravely injured Ava to the town whose lights he can see in the distance. Lucas finds a hospital, but it appears to be empty or abandoned. The voices of the dispatcher and the EMT guide him through trying to help Ava and eventually a third voice, that of a doctor, also talks him through surgery that the three say will save Ava’s life. Though suspicious and freaked out, Lucas does what they ask – with deadly results.
Given that my problem with Bruckner’s segment of V/H/S was the rampant misogyny the fact that this segment essentially features a man who horribly violates a woman and gets away scott free irks me a bit. Especially as I find it pretty damn effective for the most part. The whole idea that you could be talked into murder by people who present themselves as authority has a horror all its own.
Lucas IS allowed to walk away from the whole mess, though – provided with clean clothes and a new car. He leaves and hangs up on the dispatcher as…
…she hangs up on a payphone elsewhere in town. She then goes to a bar that is soon invaded by a man, with a shotgun, Danny. He demands information about his sister, Jesse. One of the patrons assaults Danny only to be revealed as a demon – as, it seems, are all the people in the bar. Danny forces the bartender, Al, to lead him to his sister and forces her to come with him into the surrounding desert as he tries to ‘rescue’ her – even though she doesn’t want to leave.
Okay. This is Purgatory, right? All these people are being punished for various things. There are demons. There are even worse things in the dark of the surrounding desert. There are the ‘keepers’ or ‘shepherds’ watching everything and occasionally brutally enforcing their cordon? Gotta be. Southbound. Nice.
Jesse leaves her brother to the tender mercies of the desert community and returns to the building Danny found her in. There she sees…
“The Way In”
…Jem, who is on vacation with her family. Jem is about to go to college and this is one last weekend of family time in their vacation home. Unfortunately for them there are other people with different plans. What starts out looking as a standard home invasion turns horrifyingly violent as three men take revenge for some unspoken wrong.
Of course the house is familiar – we’ve seen these rooms and hallways before. So when the intruders remove their masks we’re not terribly surprised. The movie is coming full circle, letting us see where things start. And where they start again.
The Bottom Line
Looking for resolution in Southbound‘s vignettes is a mug’s game. There’s horror and violence and revenge and a constant thread of people needing to face the horrible things they’ve done. But it’s all internal to them, and we’re only allowed glimpses. Those glimpses are worth the price of admission, though. Resolution is overrated.