Southbound (Movie Review)

Southbound (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: On a fallow desert highway in the middle of nowhere, five intersecting fates are steered in the SOUTHBOUND direction of hell!

REVIEW: Following last year's holiday-themed horror anthologies TALES OF HALLOWEEN and A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, it's safe to say the sick omnibus horror form of yore continues to thrive via SOUTHBOUND - the new joint-venture from the filmmaking collective that unspooled V/H/S a few years ago. In fact, despite its titular downward direction, SOUTHBOUND tends to rise above its anthological counterparts precisely because of, in addition to the mordantly absurdist dark humor that studs the entire tone of the flick, how seamlessly interwoven and organically connected each tale is, and what a tense and terrifying tapestry the overall result becomes. Instead of five disparate, unrelated vignettes, here we're treated to a skein of germanely interwoven short stories that all converge in a gorily cyclical bout of butchery. Let's hit the f*cking road, Jack!

The soothing voice of genre stalwart Larry Fessenden opens the flick, as, through a connective tissue to each tale, he plays a harbinger of a radio DJ. Talks of regret, remorse, amends and atonement instantly echo themes of the film, as we're soon introduced to what we shall recognize as the wrap-around first entry, "The Way In." We meet Jack and Mitch, harried, febrile, deep in the throes of some sort of criminal enterprise we aren't yet privy to. As they try to escape the desert and head for home, they appear to be stuck in some kind of bizarre time-loop, where they can't seem to drive past a quarter mile or so of highway before seeing the same gas-station over and over again. What gives? Well, you'll have to see for yourself, but what I dug most about this stint - written, co-directed and starring Matthew Bettinelli-Olpin as Jack - is how it sets it up to seem as if Jack and Mitch are two good guys trying to evade peril, but by the end, we learn almost the exact opposite is the case. Now, I will say that the revelatory impact of such becomes a bit dampened just by virtue of knowing that, in typical anthology fashion, the unresolved beginning must come full circle to pay off in a meaningful way in the end. It does indeed, even if in a pretty obviously foreseen manner.

As day breaks, we're treated to the feminine wiles of "Siren," directed by Roxanne Benjamin from a script she inked with co-star Susan Burke. This one follows a hung-over trio of punk-rock chicks - Kim (Nathalie Love), Ava (Hannah Marks) and Sadie (Fabianne Therese) - barreling toward their newest gig out in the middle of nowhere. When their van breaks down, they're happened upon by a suspiciously anodyne couple right out of the 1950s. The gals refuse help at first, but soon give and join the couple back at their abode on the promise that their neighbors likely have a spare tire to fit their van. Of course, eerie absurdity takes hold as soon as they all get to the house. At dinner, the couple's creepily mute, synchronized identical twin sons show up, as do the aforementioned neighbors, the Kensingtons (Dana Gould and Anessa Ramsey). A blackened hunk of meat is served for dinner, and when two of the gals trustingly imbibe the shite, they're soon beset with a violent vomitus that turns them into sedate and soulless inebriates. Only Sadie is left to find help. This isn't the most original of the chapters (THE VISIT comes to mind), but its unnerving use of darkly enigmatic humor makes it no less entertaining than the rest. More importantly, "Siren" beautifully dovetails into what is, in my opinion, the crowning chapter of the movie, David Bruckner's "Accident."

See, as Sadie escapes the house and finds her way back to the ill-fated highway, an inattentive driver named Lucas (Mather Zickle) suddenly ramrods the poor gal in the middle of the road. She's shattered, lifeless, leaking gore. Lucas rings 911, yet without a clue as to where his as, can't receive much help. He's told by an EMT dispatch to pick the girl up himself, put her in his car and drive her to the nearest town to find help. Ludicrous, right? It only gets worse. As Lucas speeds up to an emergency room he finally locates, he carries the grue-soaked Sadie into the building, only to find that the place has been dingily abandoned, with not a soul in sight. Lucas continues getting directions from the dispatch lady in his earpiece, soon finding himself having to exact an incisive medical procedure right there on the spot. And this is where, if the film as a whole can be charted as a roller-coasting parabola, it hits its absolute apogee. So f*cking gnarly is amateur surgery scene - equal parts gross-out horror and absurdist black humor - that it's bound to draw the loudest collective gasp from the audience. Zickle plays the scene deadpan, which adds to the awkward tenor of the action, in a way that credibly shades his character from culprit to victim. Definitely the show's highpoint!

"Jailbreak" is the succeeding stint, directed by Patrick Horvath (THE PACT II), and naturally recedes a bit. Call it the inevitable lull after a powerful crest, but for whatever reason, Jailbreak feels like it has the least amount of momentum to any of the snippets. Perhaps it's the fact Horvath is the one dude in the bunch who didn't also work in V/H/S, which may have led to a discordant sensibility. Whatever the case, the story centers on a feral looking cat named Danny (David Yow) who storms into a bar looking for his long lost sister Jesse (Tipper Newton). After trading barbs with the barkeep and sedated patrons, he's finally tipped off to a place where Jesse has been residing for the past 13 odd years. When Danny makes a hard rescue attempt, it turns out Jesse doesn't want to leave. Stockholm Syndrome perhaps? Poor Danny gets more than he signed up for from then, as Jesse's sadistically sinful boyfriend shows firsthand how inhospitable he can be. Not a terrible entry by any means, but certainly not as original or as memorable as the others.

Wrapping around the entire narrative is "The Way In," which is realized with great tension by the Radio Silence crew - Chad Villella, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett. The actions starts with a family checking into a motel off our ostensibly cursed desert highway. Smooth enough at first, until a pair of home-invading goons in old-man masks come a knocking. Nothing awfully new is offered in the first part of this one, but it's exacted with such palpable suspense and dreadful anticipation that it doesn't matter. It works well. Then, as we come to identify the goons as Jack and Mitch from the opener, a wildly unpredictable turn follows that gives way to the movie's only real VFX design. Spindly skeletal phantoms soon appear, the very kind that haunt Jack and Mitch in "The Way Out." It's up to you to see how they manifest, and why, but suffice it to say, the action totals up to a satisfyingly conclusive circle. Or pentagram, as the poster suggests!

Extra Tidbit: SOUTHBOUND hits theaters Friday, February 5th.
Source: AITH



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