27th Feb2016

Glasgow Frightfest: ‘Southbound’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Hannah Marks, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Mather Zickel, David Yow, Tipper Newton | Written and Directed by Radio Silence, Roxanne Benajmin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath

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Southbound is yet another horror anthology from the people behind the V/H/S trilogy. However unlike that series of films, Southbound actually gets things right. Perfectly right.

Southbound opens and closes with Radio Silence’s The Way Out and The Way In (in that order). A book-ending tale that introduces us to two men on the run, being chased across the desert by ethereal, skeletal grim reapers from which there is no escape. Especially when the pair stop at a gas station… We return to the same tale for the closer, discovering why the pair are on the run and why they are being haunted. Radio Silence’s opener The Way Out really sets the tone for the rest of the film, with a very dutsy, very grungy look and some truly scary monsters. There was no need to return to the same tale for the closer – The Way Out was a solid enough terror tale, but by bringing things flll circle with The Way In and revealing who or what the two protagonists are running from – and more importantly why – adds extra layers to the story and in the end creates more empathy for the men.

Roxanne Benjamin, producer of the V/H/S films heads behind the camera for the second segment Siren, which picks up the story of three girls mourning the death of a friend, who hit tyre trouble on the road. Stuck in the middle of nowhere the trio accept a lift from a sweet natured husband and wife who, it turns out, are anything but. If you’ve seen the fantastic Race With the Devil you’ll know where this particular tale is headed… Though Benjamin thankfully spends more time getting to know her characters than any of the other writer/directors involved in the film, so that when “things” do unfold we care more about the girls situation.

We care even more about the survivor of Benjamin’s tale after she becomes intergral to the next story, David Bruckner’s segment The Accident, which sees a business man involved in a car accident become haunted by the voices on the end of the 911 call. To say anymore would spoil what is ultimately the most “uplifting” segment of Southbound (hey, if the protagonist doesn’t die it’s uplifting OK?) and it’s most dark and twisted. Literally, Bruckner’s tale is dark enough as it is, without the machiavellian plot twists thrown in!

The final segment, before the return of Radio Silence’s story is – unfortunately – Southbound‘s weakest. Helmed by Patrick Horvath, Jailbreak tells the story of a man looking for his sister in the wrong place – stepping into a bizarre underworld of monsters and magic; and discovering that his sister doesn’t really want to escape. There are some neat touches to Horvath’s tale – the third eye seeing into another dimension for example – but you can’t help but think this is a been there, done that, kind of story.

Literally quartet of tales (with one twice-told) told on the road to hell, Southbound is unlike your typical anthology in that each tale leads seemlessly into the next – characters cross paths unaware of each others fate, some are intergral to the next story; especially in the case of The Accident. There’s no fade to black here, no title cards. The only constant is the road and those inhabiting it. That and the soothing voice of Larry Fessenden, whose radio DJ is at once a homage to the likes of Rod Serling and Adrienne Barbeau’s DJ from The Fog; and the moral compass to this films particular set of characters – his narration and often forewarning adding an extra layer of spookiness to proceedings.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the V/H/S films – whilst they were fun I often found the stories within to be very hit and miss. But Southbound “corrects” all the mistakes made in that franchise, creating something which stands head and shoulders with last years Frightfest duo of Tales of Halloween and A Christmas Horror Story, whilst homaging a whole different era of anthology horror. Here’s hoping we see a sequel on another road to hell soon.

***** 5/5

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