If you were to ask me, when the horror genre is at its strongest, I would say that’s when it’s in the anthology format. I realize that this is, at best, a flawed belief, because Lord knows we’ve all seen enough bad ones, but even at their worst, I can usually find something to like — whether it’s a performance, a technically proficient segment, or a new approach to structure and mythology. The best ones, like CREEPSHOW, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, NECRONOMICON, TRICK ‘R TREAT, and even the VHS series have all of those elements on display, and so does SOUTHBOUND. Although it’s a bit rougher around the edges than those movies, it’s still an entertaining white-knuckle ride down one seriously-twisted stretch of desert highway.
Conceived and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (VHS), David Bruckner (THE SIGNAL), Patrick Horvath (THE PACT 2), and Radio Silence (VHS), SOUTHBOUND almost acts as a narrative anthology. Although it doesn’t tell a singular story, characters and their actions crossover into each segment, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, and this creates a pretty interesting approach to the anthology format. I think most people would agree that the weakest elements in most anthologies is the wrap-around, the de facto delivery system which we usually have to get through just so we can get to the good stuff. SOUTHBOUND doesn’t do that — it keeps things moving from frame one, and due to a consistent visual look, you have to truly pay attention to know when one story ends and another begins, and even then, it’s not entirely clear.
From what I understand, the team behind SOUTHBOUND utilized a kind of writers-room approach while constructing the film, and as such, there’s a distinctive internal mythology at play and a lot of thematic overlap. The filmmakers throw everything — from ghosts, cults, demonic dimensions, home invasion, and spirits of vengeance — into the mix, and they manage to make it all work because they establish early on that the stretch of road they’re on is a very strange place. Once you see the film, you’ll be able to tell exactly what the creators want you to think this place is, and a certain kind of person will find that realization groan-worthy, but personally I find it a negligible aspect, because there is just too much cool shit happening not to have a good time.
I’m going to make this review a little shorter than usual, because to discuss any more would get into spoiler territory, and the twists are half the fun for this flick. To end, though, I will say that I like the idea of a bunch of filmmakers going out to the desert to make a movie, and I especially like a movie that puts craft in front of flash. SOUTHBOUND flexes a lot of different muscles, and for the most part, it works like a finely tuned engine. If more anthologies operated like SOUTHBOUND we would be very lucky.
Patrick Smith has written for publications such as Spandexless and Paracinema magazine. He lives in New Jersey with his extensive collection of T-shirts.