Southbound is a modern horror anthology film that takes a lot of cues from this particular sub-genre’s past but updates it for modern audiences. As such you can feel a good degree of love for the portmanteau format and the writers here have done well to keep a flow between the segments, while linking them visually with a heap of easter eggs that show that there is a consistent universe between the tales.
That universe seems to be one of those moody back roads that we personally would never drive down given that we’ve watched Duel and The Hitcher and this road appears to be heading south although the final destination doesn’t appear to be Mexico. Not unless Mexico has an embassy in Hell.
The film comes out of the gate hard and fast with The Way Out. Mitch and Jack are driving down the highway, outrunning some unseen menace. Jack is trying to keep a level head while Mitch is tearfully looking at a photo of what appears to be his daughter while also noticing strange, dark figures floating in the desert.
They eventually pull into a gas station. Jack is attacked by some apparently invisible force and the pair leave in a hurry, hitting the road immediately. However, they then find themselves in a loop, pulling up to the gas station as soon as they drive away from it.
Abandoning their truck, the pair are soon confronted by those floating figures and when one of them shoves its arm into Jack’s mouth, killing him, Mitch decides that this is the fate he deserves and follows the figures to a motel where he is trapped in a looping corridor as he chases his daughter (who annoyingly is asking for his help while running away from him).
This story ends here, implying that Mitch will be trapped forever, unable to help his daughter. It’s definitely bleak and moody but the scares don’t really deliver thanks to the obviously CGI floaty things and the fact that the story doesn’t explain itself. It seems needlessly unfleshed out. The idea of being trapped in a loop lands pretty well though and made me feel a little uneasy. Of course, if you want some more of that, just watch one of the many Hellraiser sequels.
Part two, Siren, begins at the same motel that the last segment ends in. Sadie, Eva and Kim are a band (The White Tights) on the road in their little camper van. Leaving the motel and driving through the desert, they suffer a flat tire and with no spare (because of the drum kit taking up all the space) they call for assistance. Cleverly, the film doesn’t throw in the whole ‘no cell signal’ nonsense. They do get a lady on the line but the issue is that they have no idea where they are and the map app on their phone doesn’t seem to recognise the road.
Eventually a nice, but odd, couple drive past and offer to help them out. Sadie doesn’t fancy it at all but the band are desperate and so they get in the car and are taken back to the couple’s house.
They are shown to a room by the woman who mentions their friend Alex who isn’t with them. The other girls don’t appear to notice this but it spooks Sadie. Later on at dinner, the couple serve the worst looking meatloaf ever. Sadie declines as she is vegan but the other girls eat it and say it is really good.
Yeah, really good until later than night when they are puking black goo everywhere. Sadie is freaking out but the other girls seem pretty calm, apart from implying that Sadie was responsible for Alex’s death.
The next day she stumbles upon the couple, their friends and the rest of her band partaking in a ritual. She gives away her position when she steps into a bear trap and is chased by the group. As she hides in a shed she is approached by a scary apparition that appears to be Alex. Which leads her to get the fuck out of there! And straight into the third segment of the film.
While this story is quite traditional, so much so that you kind of know what the dangers are before they play out, Sadie’s mindset is pretty relatable. She knows what genre traps to avoid and is generally pretty smart, getting herself armed as soon as possible when things start to go south. And while that intelligence is refreshing, there’s a real lack of scares in this part. What you imagine might happen is far less scary than what ends up transpiring.
So, the third part, The Accident, begins when Sadie attempts to flag down a passing car. However the driver, Lucas, is distracted on his phone and smashes into her. He gets out of the car and sees that she is a mess, all bloodied and with various broken bones.
He calls 911 and after realising that he has no clue where he is, he follows the dispatcher’s advice to head into the nearest town. When he arrives, the town is suspiciously empty but he finds a hospital and carries Sadie in.
In the meantime, the dispatcher and an EMT are trying to advise him before a doctor joins the call and tells Lucas that Sadie’s broken ribcage is constricting her lungs. Lucas asks the doctor how he even knows that but is persuaded to try to help her. He is advised to make an incision and clear the obstruction around Sadie’s lung. He does but she dies at which point the dispatcher, EMT and doctor all begin laughing.
Lucas hangs up and tries to flee but realises he is locked in the hospital. Eventually his phone rings again and the group tell him to go to the locker room and get changed into clean clothes. They then tell him he doesn’t deserve this and he may leave. Outside, he looks at his wrecked car but when he uses his car key’s fob another identical car is unlocked. He gets in a drives away.
Now this section is where it is at. Lucas’ frantic attempts to help the girl really keep the viewer engaged. The fast pace of this tale, and the sheer menace of the situation, make it very compelling. The gory effects may be too much for some but it is all done to create a sense of panic and it does it brilliantly. Also, the story’s ending is a refreshing change compared to what has happened in the film so far. Where the previous stories were about not being able to out run your past, The Accident is about ultimately being rewarded for passing a test. Admittedly, a very horrible test!
As Lucas drives away, we see him drive past Sandy who is the despatcher from the previous story. She then walks into a bar called The Trap, setting up Southbound’s fourth tale, Jailbreak. She leaves the door open which starts an argument between her and the bartender, Al.
As they argue about the door, and Warren (played by Tyler Tuione, the big, hairy dude from the sensational vampire film 30 Days of Night) gets involved they all get a surprise when a man called Danny enters the bar with a shotgun, yelling about his missing sister.
Danny’s situational awareness is bollocks though and he is slashed across the back by Warren who is apparently a demon. Danny blows his hand off with the shotgun and takes Al hostage, demanding to be taken to his sister.
Al is quite the prick but eventually does what he is told. He uses a weird tattoo on the back of his hand to see an alternate view of the room they are in and reveals a hidden door. Inside Jesse is there, tattooing a man’s back. Danny tells her he is there to rescue her. She hasn’t aged, so you can tell it has been a while since she went missing but she was never a prisoner. She wanted to be there. Danny’s having none of that though and drags her to his car while being chased by demons.
Despite her pleas, Danny keeps driving into the desert but the car breaks down, at which point Jesse explains that Danny doesn’t belong where they are but she does because she killed their parents. However, the demons from the town tear Danny out of the car. Jesse restarts the car and drives back to the town. Smiling. Because she’s a dick.
This story is arguably the weakest but it does have its moments. It is more confusing than it is enjoyable but Al is an amusingly difficult character and there’s more action in this segment than others. The story is pretty weak though, with no much in the way of explanation and a pretty unsatisfying ending.
Jem is due to go to college and so they are all having some final family vacation time. At the vacation house, they are about to settle down when a group of masked men break into the house. Jem hides from them but her parents are caught. At this point, Daryl knows who they are and asks them what it’ll take to put things right. One of the men whispers to Cait what he did. She is shocked but doesn’t have much time to process this new information as she is killed. They then kill Daryl, holding up the photograph from the first segment up to his face as he dies.
Two of the men remove their masks, revealing them to be Mitch and Jack from the first story. Revealing that presumably the girl was Mitch’s daughter and that Daryl had killed her.
As they are leaving, Jem goes full ‘You’re Next’ and fights back, wounding the third man, Shane, and after a struggle, Mitch kills her. Racked with remorse, they leave just as the ground starts to crumble and those floating demons appear which ends the film but sets up a loop, letting you know that this is a day that will be replayed infinitely. Or at least until we get a sequel.
The final story is a good representation of the film as a whole. There are details in there that link to the other stories and it gives the impression of being quite well written but nothing that memorable really happens. The masks the men are wearing are the creepiest thing about it but beyond that it is a standard home invasion story.
Oddly, it is the linking story that is probably the smartest thing about Southbound. There are visual clues to the other stories littered around the whole film but when it comes to the actual story, too much is left unexplained. I’d rather have gotten to know the characters a bit more.
However, the film is worth it for The Accident alone which is a great portmanteau segment in its own right and Larry Fassenden’s moody radio DJ voiceover helps set some of the stories up nicely, in the same way that Adrienne Barbeau did in Tales of Halloween.
So while Southbound is far from a modern classic, it sticks to the original portmanteau formula quite well and has its moments. We’d like to see a sequel that tries less to be cleverer than it is and instead concentrates on a more solid plot and bigger scares but, as huge fans of horror anthologies, we can’t ever be too disappointed with this kind of thing.