Director(s): Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Chad Villella, Tyler Gillett, Patrick Horvath, Roxanne Benjamin, Justin Martinez
Genre: Anthology Horror
In theory, anthology horror is the genre’s saving grace. The subgenre offers the possibility of skating almost entirely by on a good premise alone, as roughly 20 minutes is more than enough time to drop characters into a sticky situation, tell us their needs and wants, and scare the pants off of them. Unfortunately, the occasional intriguing format experiment aside (THE ABCS OF DEATH), the late aughts to early 10s saw found footage entirely hijack the genre and crash it miserably to the ground. Perhaps with the exception of the original V/H/S, anthology horror looked doomed to a future of progressively more dissipated shaky-cam college thesis films. 2015’s SOUTHBOUND isn’t great and is really only a step or two safely in the “good” range, but acts as a much needed palette cleanser for the indie dreck that has proliferated in recent years.
Although this looks like indie dreck of an entirely different sort
Most notably in the film’s favor is that, finally, it’s not found footage! SOUTHBOUND gets points alone for having the audacity to tell narratives in a more traditionally structured and polished cinematic style. While anthology films such as THREE…EXTREMES do this and do it better, SOUTHBOUND accumulates even more goodwill through its efforts to link its five disparate narratives (“The Way Out,” “Siren,” “The Accident,” “Jailbreak,” “The Way In”), although it achieves middling results. As it stands, only the transition between “Siren” and “The Accident” really feels earned, and it’s a shame that the Hellions glimpsed in the first segment aren’t a more pervasive antagonist a la Sam from TRICK ‘R TREAT.
The segments themselves are forgettable at absolute worst, which is a far improvement upon many of the film’s anthology-oriented peers. However, only “The Accident” manages to fully capitalize on its strong concept, as many of the endings rear their heads just in time to nearly entirely derail the short in general. SOUTHBOUND starts off strong with “The Way Out,” a taut opener that plays with dimensional and temporal perception. Forcing us to scramble to piece together just what in the Hell is happening after we’re introduced to Mitch and Jack speeding away from demonic forces flitting around on their periphery, the segment adamantly refuses to hold the viewer’s hand, positing it as at least the most innovative segment of the film, if not the objective best.
“What happ–” “NOTM is the only good Death Grips”
Unfortunately, much like “Siren” to follow it, “The Way Out” can’t quite manage to exit a success, as an unfortunately unsatisfying creature reveal takes the wind out of its sails. “Siren” is much more frustrating, as the short takes a baffling left turn into a tired, stereotypical realm of Satan worship that leaves the viewer with a sour taste in their mouth. Telling of a group of travelling female musicians picked up by an anachronistic family straight from 50s suburbia, the short initially promises us a progressively more unsettling introduction of the family’s dark secrets as the girls explore the house. Unfortunately, we’re strong-armed into a dinner scene where everyone makes dubious remarks about “old family recipes” and a maleficent hunk of meat is served as supper. What a surprise, the skeptical protagonist Sadie refuses to eat the meat, has to tuck her violently roommates in, and awakens to them frollicking off to the desert to participate in some old fashioned Satan worship.
“The Accident” is an ideal midpoint for the film, as it’s far more comfortably situated as a black comedy than a horror short. The hapless Lucas hits Sadie as she flees from the Satanic hordes, and is directed by emergency services to take her to a nearby hospital. Of course, the hospital is suspiciously abandoned, but the short manages to steer clear of rehashed scares by having the emergency services tell Lucas to perform “life saving” procedures of a progressively more ridiculous nature. Any short that can successfully land a punchline involving Lucas sticking his fist into a dying woman’s body cavity and crushing her lung deserves recognition, and David Bruckner continues his reign as a horror short director to remember (he previously directed the standout segment from V/H/S, “Amateur Night”).
Tfw the Tidal stream stops during THE LIFE OF PABLO
Regrettably, “Jailbreak” and “The Way In” are barely worth commenting on. Although entirely functional, the former unapologetically apes on FROM DUSK TIL DAWN and the latter is an entirely unnecessary home invasion story that raises more questions than it answers despite a comparatively clever wraparound to the original segment. SOUTHBOUND is “good for anthology horror,” but unfortunately that can’t quite absolve it from its shortcomings. One stellar segment isn’t enough to guarantee that your film deserves to be remembered, and the shoddy endings promise to just release more directors into the world who will fall victim to the same fallacies that virtually all creative agencies involved in the production of horror fall victim to. Nonetheless, SOUTHBOUND will inevitably end up on Netflix, and you could do much worse.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend