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Friday, February 26, 2016

Southbound


Southbound
Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
2015

Southbound is an anthology film that follows several groups of people on lonesome desert roads surrounding a strange town. The first story involves a couple of men who, from their bloody appearance, are in some kind of trouble. They find themselves trapped in a never ending loop while being pursued by something. The second story follows a band on their way to a concert when they are forced to spend the evening with some very strange people. The third story is about a man who accidentally runs over a woman and is now in a race to save her life under the guidance of an odd emergency call operator. The fourth story is about a man going to great lengths to find his sister. The final story finds a family under siege in their new home.

Southbound is a film constantly in motion. It begins mid-story with our protagonists already fleeing. There is a pattern that continues with each subsequent tale, we catch things already underway and have to pay attention to a few clues in the dialog to try and piece things together. It's well-crafted in the sense that the stories manage to convey just enough information to keep character motivates clear and narratives coherent.

"Uhh, she was like this when I found her..."
The film looks great, the smaller budget only shows its hand in a few CGI shots that aren't as convincing as they could be, but much of it holds up well. There are also a number of great practical effects, including some potent gore. The creature designs are a mixture of familiar and strange, invoking classic cloaked death images with something more fungal and weird.

The score is a mish-mash of rock and some very deliberate retro synthesizer sounds that evoke the work of John Carpenter. In fact, it would have been very easy to see Carpenter as a collaborator in a film like this, but I appreciate that the creators used him as a source of inspiration without slavishly copying all the surface elements of his work. This is very much a modern film and it possesses its own identity.

"Say, do you know where there's a Steak N' Shake around here?"
This is a rare anthology film where I feel all the stories were more or less on equal footing. Many such films usually try and open and close with their strongest stories, and really on the fact that if a particular story is weak it will soon be over and the film will be moving on the next one. I found myself invested in each story in Southbound, and in the unusual way in which each tale would carry over an element and blend into the next one made the whole thing feel more cohesive.

V/H/S (2012) ushered in a resurgence of anthology movies and I think Southbound is a worthy successor,  I walked out of the theater eager to take another trip to the strange unnamed town at the center of the movie. I wouldn't mind seeing Southbound become a regular series of films. It sets up a number of tantalizing mysteries and sharp horror that is worthy of a return journey.

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