"Unusually coherent for a film of this type and well structured so that the different directors' styles complement one another rather than clashing."

There's something particular about long desert roads, especially at night - something that has intrigued many American filmmakers. That sense of isolation coupled with a sense of purpose which, in light of those great open landscapes, seems curiously abstracted. People become alert to their own smallness in such places, and there's a feeling that anything could happen - that the usual rules of existence can no longer be relied upon.

Southbound is set in such a place. A collection of five short horror fables interlinked in the style on La Ronde, it presents a selection of characters whose suffering stems from their sense of guilt - whether earned or otherwise. Perhaps no-one is innocent but the fates suffered by these characters seem crueler and less deserved in some cases than others, implying an amorally ordered universe - and some of the characters embrace that.

Copy picture

We begin with two men whom we will later meet for the first time. They are on the run, injured, fleeing the scene of their crime - but the road, dreamlike, seems to loop around on itself, limiting them to a smaller and smaller world. At a distance, ragged brown things hang unnaturally in the air. These, too, we will see again, hovering in the background of other people's tales. Like many a movie monster they lose their impact close up, but at a distance they convey a creepiness that is at the heart of what makes the film work.

The second tale, probably the creepiest if also the most prosaic, follows three young women, members of a jazz band, after their van breaks down and they break horror film rule number six: never accept a lift from a stranger. The middle aged couple who stop to help seem nice enough at first, but in their isolated house it soon becomes clear that something is very wrong. A stylised dagger in a bedroom drawer, big lumps of meat for dinner and that old staple, black goo leaking out of orifices - it could have been tedious formula stuff but it's elevated by good performances, strong cinematography and a distanced style that owes something to the similarly dislocated Carnival Of Souls (if reimagined in pastel shades).

Part three, entered with appropriate abruptness, owes more to the likes of Audition and has a pitch black sense of humour. It's the tale of Lucas (Mather Zickel), a late night driver distracted by his phone, who hits a pedestrian and, as he tries to do the right thing, finds the situation getting worse and worse. Elements of farce combine with gruesome horror in a story you'll feel unable to look away from even when you really don't want to see what's happening.

In part four, the setting for all this darkness is explored more directly. a lone crusader from our world has gone there looking for his sister. Perhaps we have seen her before.Here the comedy, though still very dark, has a punkish aspect to it; we find that people love this otherworld and are happy to call it home, perhaps having been unable to find a home anywhere else. it carries us smoothly into the final chapter, which slips is little references to The Strangers as it unfurls hastily assembled home invasion horror (making it clear that the long form of this subgenre is usually just wasting space).

Unusually coherent for a film of this type and well structured so that the different directors' styles complement one another rather than clashing, Southbound weaves its dreamscape well. It offers true homage to the masters of the genre rather than just helping itself to their best lines, and genre fans will feel properly rewarded.

Reviewed on: 04 Aug 2016
Share this with others on...
Southbound packshot
Five interlocking tales of terror follow the fates of a group of weary travellers who confront their worst nightmares - and darkest secrets - over one long night on a desolate stretch of desert highway.

Director: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence

Writer: Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath

Starring: Larry Fessenden

Year: 2015

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2016

Search database: