Southbound is a 2016 independent horror anthology film. That means it's a whole bunch of short films crammed together suckahs. This one is comprised of five different stories of people, all trying to make their way in a particular direction. We'd tell you which direction, but you know, spoilers. Speaking of spoilers, those abound in the review below, so watch out. Check out the trailer, and then read our review. Let us know what you thought of the movie by twitter or in the comments.
Jack: Southbound. Hah. Beat you to it, asshole.
Mark: I mean… sure. You can have this one. I wouldn’t want to throw you into a tailspin. Our reader demands a certain level of professionalism after all. Steve is probably already flabbergasted by Jake’s notable absence. What the hell is that clown up to anyway?
Jack: Who even knows with that guy man? I assume he’s on stage somewhere telling people that greed is good and what have you. You know, business stuff.
Mark: In this world is he on stage talking to people who, like, paid to see him give his opinions or did he just kinda walk on stage during Shakespeare in the Park? It’s the latter right?
Jack: Whatever the case, he’s certainly too coked out to write this with us, so I heroically stepped up and begged you to tag in. Crying. Heroically.
Mark: So yeah, let’s get to it. Southbound is an anthology horror movie based around… I dunno… the desert I guess? It’s essentially five short films following various story lines of people travelling down this same stretch of road. Anthology movies generally allow a decent amount of creativity because of their format, but this one seemed to be full of good ideas from the start. Hell, even the poster design is implemented well.
Jack: Yeah man! The poster is really cool. Visually interesting enough if you know nothing about the movie, but meaningful once you know what’s going on. Kind of a spoiler, but not unless you already know what’s going on. A good start. And speaking of good starts (I’m a master of writing here people, did you just see that segue? Count it) the movie opens on two guys driving down a highway in the middle of fucking nowhere. They’re scared, and one keeps looking back.
Mark: It set the tone for the movie really well I think. Although it’s not the most unique concept ever you immediately get that there’s a sense of mystery surrounding this area. These guys seem pretty conflicted over something, and the writers aren’t quick to let us know what. We get to see a pretty nasty stab wound getting cleaned in the gas station bathroom. I mean, if I’m going to do non-emergent wound care I can think of nary a few locations that I would rather do it in than a gas station bathroom. I’ll tell you what the real horror is here - Sepsis.
Jack: And when they’re in the car, you can see something in the background. It’s not immediately clear what at first, but as the passenger sees more of them . . . well it’s still not clear what they are . . . but what is clear is that they’re something supernatural. Actually pretty terrifying. Floating dark tentacle monsters looming ominously in the distance. It was scary.
Mark: So I didn’t love the design of the monsters, but I also didn’t hate them. They looked great in the distance as foreboding grim reapers, and up close they were adequate as floating skeleton monsters. They also provide some pretty decent gore to start things off.
Jack: Look man, they looked great from a distance. Fucking terrifying. But they looked motherfucking horrible up close. Turns out up close, they’re just winged skeleton grim-reaper CGI abominations. It’s awful. And it’s not like they even needed to show them close up at all! I get that there were budgetary constraints, but that seems to point to minimizing the close-ups of the monsters, not featuring them heavily. Showing them up close didn’t really serve anything. The gore you’re talking about is that one of them shoves its scythe right down one of the dudes’ throats, but anything could of done that, didn’t have to be a cartoon halloween costume.
Mark: I hear you, but I feel like it helped the pacing out a bit. If you’re starting with a psychological horror short film for your anthology movie you gotta be careful that your pacing keeps people intrigued. Plus it’s hard to say no to showing a scythe shoved down a guy’s throat.
Jack: Alright, Mark, you’re jumping all over the dang place, and getting ahead of our reader. Sorry Steve, but you’re not that bright. Which is probably why you’re reading this here shitshow. So what’s going on here is that the two guys, Jack and Mitch, are driving down the highway. Mitch starts to see more and more of the creepy-in-the-distance tentacle guys, but doesn’t say anything to Jack about them. Poor Jack. Jacks, as a people, are misunderstood.
Mark: . . . Misunderstood. Sure.
Jack: Shut up. So Mitch and Jack are driving and they pull into a gas station, but there’s no gas there. They drive to the next one, but it’s empty too, and has the exact same creepy attendant. This goes on and on, until eventually they stop and the monsters are getting closer. Jack wants to run, but Mitch says he’s ready, and they ‘deserve’ what is going to happen. Jack gets straight scythed in the throat.
Mark: I guess they’re going for the ironic punishments, Dante’s Inferno style. Guy who presumably was the violent one (with the stab wound) get’s violently reamed by the floating sludge monster. Guy who is obsessively looking at the photo of his daughter is doomed to chase her around. Maybe he really hates playing tag. Man, that would suck.
Jack: Sure, just gloss over the rest of the plot of this first short film. It’s fine, people were counting on me to recap it anyway. Heroically. So what you find out is that these two guys were running from their sins. Jack dies pretty quick after he accepts his guilt, but Mitch runs to a hotel. A hotel where he finds his own house in House of Leaves style hallway. Then he finds the ghostly apparition of his young daughter begging Jack to “Make him stop.” Needless to say he never does. End of short film #1. Smash cut to the next, where we join a group of women rockers in their tour van on the same desolate highway. It’s a pretty unoriginal band. Pretty much straight out of central casting for Josie and the Pussycats.
Mark: This one started off fairly well, but just never really delivered. That being said, the front end of it was pretty heavily loaded with the creepy hitchhiker trope. Not a bad one to dwell on I guess. You get a good combination of vulnerability with the tension of allowing yourself to trust a stranger who is helping you.
Jack: Sure, but that was mostly on the backs of the performances of the creepy couple that picks the band up after their van has broken down. It certainly doesn’t add anything new to the world of terrorized hitchhikers.
Mark:The problem I had with this one was that they kept trying to shoehorn in the mysterious fourth band member/lover that died. I guess from the concept side of things it’s why they’re all trapped in hell or whatever, but unless they all actually did murder this chick I don’t get why it’s relevant. In the other segments the lack of backstory adds to the intrigue about the world, but in this case I’m just confused. Are these girls in purgatory for being lesbians?
Jack: Yeah, it was really bizarre. For those not in the know, and spoilers here, it becomes clear that all of the short stories in this movie are connected, and that the highway is purgatory, and the protagonists are stuck there until they learn their lesson or something? It’s not totally clear. But Mark, you make a good point, this short didn’t have a whole lot to talk about minus the strange (and maybe non existent?) these women are in purgatory for being lesbians overtones.
Mark: I guess one thing to talk about is the random fucking twins that are introduced for no reason. They’re creepy enough to be their own standalone short film.
Jack: Most twins are. Twins are weird man. This is a well-established theory proven a thousand times over.
Jack: In any case, one band member is a vegetarian, so she doesn’t eat the creepy meat-goo that is fed to the other two. They then get sick and are given some creepy fucking milk-shit to ‘cure’ them. Shocker, it makes them insane cult people. Healthy girl runs away.
Mark: Blah blah blah. Cults Cults Cults. Bam, 3rd section. She runs away, and takes refuge in the middle of the goddamn highway when, wouldn’t you know it, she get’s fucking blasted by a vehicle. Don’t text and drive, kids. All jokes aside, this segment was far and away my favorite of the movie. It’s the most unique concept, and despite some very minor regrettable CG is also executed very well.
Jack: The transition to this short film was terrific. The protagonist of this one is the dude who just bashed the band girl with his car. And I agree that it was pretty great. I didn’t like it as much as the first short film, but it was my second favorite.
Mark: The driver gets out of the car and looks at the mangled mess of Sadie, the vegetarian band girl, lying in the road. He deliberates for a while on whether or not to just book it into the night. In a movie about making right and wrong choices, he seemingly does the right thing and calls 911. The following exchange with the dispatcher was actually one of the more entertaining pieces of dialogue across the whole film.
Jack: It is pretty great. The dispatcher walks him through what to do, inexplicably joined by a licensed EMT at one point. They tell him to get his ass to a hospital.
Mark:You think that salvation is near when he rolls onto Main Street, but it’s just completely deserted... because they’re in a desert… see what they did there? It’s creepy, and it’s a good way for the writers to continue to mess with the characters. And then things start to escalate.
Jack: Yeah, our hero (?) is trying to help her, but instead of making any progress, her leg just sort of . . . sloops off.
Mark: Now Jack, this may come as a surprise to you, but I, in fact, am not a doctor. The world just wasn’t ready for my unique brand of medicine. I am, however, fairly sure that the appropriate way to get someone to breathe when they have broken ribs is not to give their lung a handshake, which is exactly what our intrepid hero does to Sadie. Long story short, it does not go well. And when she dies, the voices on the 9-11 call just start laughing at him. It’s kind of funny, but kind of hollow.
Jack: Wait just a goddamned minute, you are not a medical doctor?! I have some questions about what happened the other night . . . In any case, you are right that even an idiot such as myself can tell that you don’t resuscitate someone by squeezing their organs like a dang melon in a market. That is, of course, unless you’re Neo.
Mark: Well it does feel like this is not his first time going through these decisions. Like it seems like he’s left this girl to die a number of times. Yeah so I suppose the implication is that he properly Groundhogged it, did his deed right, and is allowed to finally leave? Good for him. Still probably shouldn’t text and drive though.
Jack: Did he do right though? All he did this time was hit a woman with his car, consider leaving her, fail to save her by squeezing her lung, and then leave and pretend nothing happened because the voices on the other end of a clearly not-911 call told him to. Oh well, we can’t all be heroic. Next segment chumps.
Mark: While “The Accident” was my favorite of the anthology. Number 4, “Jailbreak,” was my least favorite. It was immediately less suspenseful and just sorta seemed out of place. That being said, it did do quite a bit to build the world up beyond the glimpses of it we had seen thus far.
Jack: I guess. What happens is the protagonist from The Accident, fleeing his lung-squeezing catastrophe, drives past a dive bar on the highway. It’s revealed that the “dispatcher” and “doctor” to whom he was speaking were actually just weirdos talking on pay phones at this bar.
Mark: Turns out this town is basically just one glow cloud shy of being Night Vale. They must have really interesting weather there.
Jack: Indeed. I actually don’t really know what to say about this short film. A guy is looking for his lost sister. Everyone around him is a demon/monster of some sort. The special effects on the demon-monsters aren’t terrible, but aren’t terrific either. Things progress as he’s looking for his sister and then he finds her. Turns out she doesn’t want to be saved, and tosses him to the demons like he’s Boba Fett and the monsters are a damn Sarlacc. A Star War happened recently right? That’s topical isn’t it?
Mark: Yes, decidedly topical. Good work. The sister seems weirdly okay with just having fed her brother to demons, but then I guess she kinda knew his fate was sealed already.
Jack: So like, did he know his sister was in purgatory? If so, he’s the only one who seems to know it’s purgatory. And then what was his sin that got him stuck there? Trying to save his sister? This is where if you think too hard about the overarching purgatory thing it starts to fall apart. In any case, this one’s over. Short film # 5. Bam. Transitioned. This one’s a home-invasion job. It follows a college student whose parents are taking her on vacation on this fucking highway for some reason. Good job parents. Great treat.
Mark: It’s a pretty effective homage to some other home invasion movies, notably The Strangers. It doesn’t take long for it to depart from the standard formula though. The husband/dad of the college student recognizes who his attackers are almost immediately, and it becomes fairly clear that this is a punishment more than an attack. A revengening, you might call it.
Jack: You might, if you were an idiot. Terms of enrampagement, a more sophisticated writer might say . . . or you know . . . one who’s seen Archer anyway. The masked killers make it clear to the mom that the dad is a bad dude, and she seems pretty horrified by what he did, though the viewer isn’t clued into what that is just yet.
Mark: And slowly over the course of the evening you begin to realize that you know these guys from before. The masks are the same as the one sitting on the table in the hotel in “The Way Out.” Same with the photo that is held up as they stab the guy to death. Finally, the masks come off and we see that our attackers are the gents from the first segment. Not altogether a surprise, but it sets up a nice symmetry for the movie. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Jack: It’s better than nice man, it’s actually pretty great. This mofo was the “him” that Jack’s daughter was begging to have stop in that first short film. He’s clearly some pervert monster, and Jack, Mitch, and some third guy are punishing him for it. They kill him, but tell his innocent daughter to run away. Instead, she fights back, kills one of them, but ends up accidentally stabbed, as you do.
Mark: So just for the record, this one doesn’t count as a slasher, right?
Jack: No, no it does not. The villains in this thing are nothing like slasher villains. They have legit and understandable motives. They are decidedly not impervious. They are equal in number to the victims. The victims are not young people engaged in risky teenaged behaviors. This thing has very few slasher elements. Unlike The Strangers.
Mark: Well, you’re half right. The Strangers is not a slasher, and neither is this. They’re basically the same, but this one has protagonists that kinda deserve it. At least that’s what’s implied by the whispering that the audience is not made privy to.
Jack: Well bud, history has decided, and The Strangers is more of a slasher than Hush. And by “history,” I mean our buddies over at Amino Horror. Shameless plug time, check us out. We do things there like fun polls on which non-slasher is a slasher. It’s a good time.
Mark: Okay, back on track. In a tortuous metaphor the likes of which the film world was not ready for the ground literally opens up and begins to swallow people whole into the depths of hell. Our familiar grim reaper friends crawl out of the depths. The random third guy (Shane?) manages to get himself caught and pulled down, begging the question “what the hell was he even there for?” Our two heroes escape in the pickup truck that we see in “The Way Out.”
Jack: Yeah, this was by far my least favorite part of the movie. And I don’t mean the short film, I mean the whole damned anthology. Shane gets pulled down by chains that launch out of the ground. Did he go to hell? What the hell is happening here? Why does hell open for the guys who accidentally kill a woman during a rampage, but not for a child-molesting fuck? What am I supposed to do with that? Because I don’t have a Jared Fogle reference in me this week, I just don’t.
Mark: Well I mean if you follow the logic of the film I suppose this diddler guy is perpetually vacationing with his family in only to be attacked by the three stooges every night. As he doesn’t really make any decisions he also probably can’t work his way out. So at the very least there’s that.
Jack: Eloquent summary there bud. But despite my hatred for the ground opening up part, I liked this part quite a little bit. Mitch and Jack bail into a car and straight book it for the border. OJ style. The movie ends on the same shot that opened it. The two driving on the highway, terrified. Looking behind them.
Mark: Yeah man, the end,
Jack: MARK, SHUT THE FUCK UP!! Did you not just hear that poetic ending to the post I just laid down that parallels the ending to the movie? Jesus. Some people. Let's rate this thing.
For 1, think of how Jerry Springer would rate paying for prostitutes with checks:
For 10, think of how you would rate Prince's musical abilities. What? We can be sentimental . . . dickbags.
Jack: 7 - The overall story is pretty great. Sure the purgatory stuff doesn't really hold all the way up under close scrutiny, but a few of the short films had independently great stories, and the way they were all tied together and looped was genuinely innovative and clever.
Mark: 8 - The best thing about Anthology movies is that the filmmakers are allowed to take some chances. Each of these films does something fairly interesting and unique, and even though they don’t always work well (The Siren) or maybe need a little bit more fleshing out (Jailbreak), it still adds together to be a great storytelling experience. The Accident stands out as being phenomenal.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 4 - This is a weak category for this movie. I'm not sure I've seen enough anthology movies to call it a problem with the form, but the multiple different movies with all different styles and tones was a bit hard to stay immersed in. Well, that and the terrible cartoon grim reapers.
Mark: 7 - The downside to Anthology movies is that bouncing between so many stories is generally pretty jarring. Southbound manages to sidestep this really well with their transitions between stories. Also, since every segment occurs in the same world you aren’t held back to 20 minute segments of world building. This allows interesting narrative experimentation without breaking the immersion. Everyone’s a winner.
Jack: 3 - Poor. This movie is occasionally creepy, and never outright scary. I think the most frightening parts was in the first short film where Mitch is looking back at the creepy things in the distance and not saying anything.
Mark: 6 - Although I very much enjoyed the narrative aspects of the stories in the film it’s hard for me to say that the whole shamoli was very scary. The Way Out and The Accident both have very good moments, and The Way In is decent before it goes off the rails, but overall it’s just slightly above average in this department.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 3 - The movie wisely employs the 'judicious lack thereof' part of this often. Whenever it gets bold with the effects though, it does not go well. The reapers look bad up close, which is frustrating because they never had to be shown up close. The maw of hell didn't look great, and neither did the monster demon things.
Mark: 3 - So there are a few things this movie had going for it in the effects department. The grim reapers looked good from a distance as a sort of looming specter. The practical aspects of the gore in The Accident were pretty decent. Outside of that though there’s not a lot to talk about here. Probably due to budget most of the CG stuff looks pretty bad.
Jack: 7 - Now I know this high of a score isn't really born out by my ratings for the above categories, but I don't give a shit because I really liked it. The short movie aspect makes you never get bored, and all are at the very least watchable, while some are genuinely great. I had a lot of fun watching this thing.
Mark:7.5, This movie is one of my favorites that we’ve reviewed so far. The Way Out and Accident are both great short films. The Way In is decent home invasion film before it goes supernatural, though that is kinda required to feed into the start of the loop. Jailbreak serves an interesting purpose as a worldbuilding piece even if it doesn’t deliver much else. The Siren is the lone segment that just really doesn’t do much - though I stand by the fact that in the very least the twins were creepy.