One of the stand-out features at Glasgow Frightfest 2016 was Southbound, the only anthology on the bill and perhaps the most hyped Indy horror project so far in 2016.
Southbound seems the product of perfectly tuned individuals, working in tandem towards a tapestry of terror, all worthy filmmakers in their own right. Radio Silence, the directing team whose talents were laid bare in the startlingly well-conceived V/H/S segment ‘10/31/98’, team up again for Southbound opener ‘The Way Out’. As a second group project and an introduction to Southbound’s world, The Way Out is perfect, swapping ‘10/31/98’s retro haunted house tricks for road movie monster vibes, all whilst remaining true to B-Movie origins and contemporary expectations of shock. ‘The Way Out’ also sports the single-best creature design I’ve seen so far in 2016, reimaging the grim reaper with a Lovecraftian vibe and filming it in such a way as not to spoil its tangibility with intense over-exposure to the digital effects.
Roxanne Benjamin, who produced the V/H/S Trilogy (and other Frightfest 2016 favourite The Devil’s Candy), makes her debut as writer/director of segment two: ‘Siren’. Benjamin continues the sci-fi weirdness of Radio Silence, throwing a trio of girls into a Stepford Wives situation after their car breaks down. The hyper 50’s aesthetic is telling of Banjamin’s influences and achieves the desired effect, but its Davey Johnson and Susan Burke that really sell the mood through perfectly timed nicety and question dodging. Benjamin’s is an impressive debut, but its ending doesn’t quite fulfil the promise of the intense Twilight Zone mystery.
‘The Accident’ is the most brutal segment of Southbound, opening on a shock the rest of the film does its best to match. David Bruckner has done nasty before; his chapter of The Signal is characterised by paranoia and miscommunication, whilst ‘Amateur Night’ from V/H/S is a brutal revenge story of sorts. ‘The Accident’ goes for gore more than most of the film, translating theatrical gore into gritty realistic amateur surgery in a race against the clock. You can thank Josh and Sierra Russell for much of that, the special effects duo, topping much of their earlier work, keep the gore minimal, but nasty as Hell. There’s not a lot going on story-wise, but the tension and the horror of what we are being forced to watch is undeniably effective. Dana Gould carries the short almost single-handedly whilst the cinematography perfectly frames everything in such dense darkness, it looks like some of the sets are marooned, aptly, in the void.
Patrick Horvath’s debut feature Die-ner (Get it?) is a strange but charming horror comedy thriller, way funnier than its title lets on. His two films since then, The Pact 2 and Entrance, have been made with Dallas Hallam who returns with Horvath as co-writer. ‘Jailbreak’ is an odd segment, less focused than ‘The Way Out’, ‘Siren’, or ‘The Accident’, and more loose with its aims. There’s a cool Lovecraftian sci-fi reference, but apart from that the story feels stunted by a lack of drive. It introduces ideas but speeds past them without considering how cool they are or enjoyable to watch, which is irritating.
Radio Silence return for an overture in ‘The Way In’, a home invasion slasher which bookends this unique piece of horror cinema. It’s the perfect end note and nicely pulls together the collection into one of the most successful and consistent anthology films for years. Special mention goes to The Gifted, whose debut score further blends the separate stories into one massive clusterfuck; its as if many vicious episodes of The Twilight Zone are running all at once, their characters spilling out into each other’s paths.
For fans of old-school Amicus anthologies like Asylum and Tales from the Crypt, Southbound will prove a nostalgic ride, executing a bookending thread with absolute glee. The V/H/S films allude to something but the connecting segments of- literally- all three fall short, whilst the other successful anthology horror film of recent years, The ABCs of Death, and its sequel, act as blatant showcases with no need for a binding narrative or reappearing characters. Southbound goes to great lengths to subtly blend each of its shorts into each other forming a much stronger concept of what it wants to be and what kind of world it wants to inhabit. And what a world.
Hopefully Southbound will draw attention towards its group of inventive new-wave filmmakers, and the potentials of the horror anthology. There’s lashings of retro touches and references, even Larry Fessenden appears as a fateful Radio DJ, narrating this Hellish venture like Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone, and adding another level of legitimacy to a beautifully confounding world.
Miss it at your own peril, Southbound is the anthology horror for contemporary horror fans.
Dir. Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath, David Bruckner
Stars: Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Dana Gould, Anessa Ramsey, Davey Johnson