Review: Horror Anthology SOUTHBOUND Delivers Solid Shocks

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SOUTHBOUND is one cunningly crafted killer compendium.

A new wave of new wave horror anthologies is definitely the flavor of the day, what with the popularity of the V/H/S and ABC’s OF DEATH franchises and the newest kids on the block, the seasonal selections A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY and TALES OF HALLOWEEN. The latest rookie to join the ranks is SOUTHBOUND, with the minds behind the aforesaid V/H/S franchise heading out on the highway, leaving behind the ‘found floppage’ that was V/H/S VIRAL to fade in their dusty tracks.

Rooted in an original concept devised by producer Brad Miska, originally dubbed SUBGENRE, the initial plan of action was to weave together segments that tackled completely disparate genres. After a brainstorming session or three, it soon became clear that a better modus operandi would be to stick to one specific genre – in this case horror – so as to forge a much sleeker storyline, and SOUTHBOUND was born.

Grounded slap bang in the pinnacle of the ‘80s videocassette vogue, honing in on classic creep-shows of that era, directors Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and Radio Silence have baked up five unsettling segments that complement each other in a fashion unprecedented in pretty much any anthology I’ve ever seen before.

In a similar approach to the recent A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, SOUTHBOUND avoids cobbling together an olio of shorts like the plague in favour of bridging five tales of ill-fated drifters on a road to nowhere with not a single transitional seam in sight. Okay, maybe there’s a wraparound of sorts in the form of Larry Fessenden in full on Jack Killian mode but it’s almost incidental and SOUTHBOUND’s silky smooth transitions owe to the characters falling out of the frying pan in one segment and into the fire in the next. This cunning cohesion is further enhanced by a clearly cogitated unvarying aesthetic throughout, buoyed by an ominously compelling soundscape provided by The Gifted, sharing much in common with Disasterpiece’s solid gold IT FOLLOWS soundtrack.

Rather than breaking down each segment one through five, suffice it to say that they all provide some sort of moral to their stories as each traveling wilbury harbors dark sins and regrets and the highway to hell deals with them all accordingly in sick and twisted ways.

What I will elaborate on is the opening segment, simply because Radio Silence kicks things off in a seriously effective WTF way that’s sure to reel you right in. Cue two particularly potty-mouthed men covered from head to toe in blood – think the RESERVOIR DOGS post-opening credits scene shared by Mr. White and Mr. Orange if you will. That thought alone should have you hook, line and sinker already but the appearance of some hellish creatures hot on these guys’ tails and a sudden bad case of GROUNDHOG DAY absolutely seals the deal.

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As with most anthologies, there’s a little something to cater for all punters:

Gorehounds need look no farther than David Bruckner’s segment, “The Accident” – my personal favorite of the bunch, and not just because of the blood spatter.

But it does get gruesome. Utterly gruesome.

If you thought Kurt Russell had a tough run in with his hip flask in the recent BONE TOMAHAWK wait ‘till you get a load of this phone-instructed surgery with injuries to rival one certain dropping limb scene in Fede Alvarez’ EVIL DEAD remake.

By and large, the humor is of the subtler kind in SOUTHBOUND although there are some inspired toked-out performances, particularly when it comes to a group of retro Satan worshipers in Benjamin’s “Siren.” You’ll laugh as much as you’ll cringe at the pastiche performances therein but the good times the cast obviously had on set is highly contagious, to say the very least.

Although a constant high is pretty much maintained throughout, something about Horvath’s “Jailbreak” felt slightly second-banana to its companion vignettes. There was absolutely nothing bad about it and the various characters were a hoot as it felt like we were walking into the Titty Twister all over again, but something didn’t quite hit home and I couldn’t shake the feeling it would have worked best as a standalone short on the festival circuit.

Where SOUTHBOUND really comes into its own, though, is in the final chapter when it cleverly integrates all the pieces of the puzzle, coming right back on itself to seal a shuddersome circle of death and destruction. You really couldn’t ask for a better ending as it recapitulates just how closely related everything you’ve just seen really is and that each tale took place only a stone’s throw away from its predecessor. Ultimately, it begs for a second helping to spot those missing links you definitely maybe missed the first time round.

SOUTHBOUND might not quite transcend the high bar set by the likes of CREEPSHOW and THE TWILIGHT ZONE but its savvy structure lends the film a coherence that sets it head and shoulders above its new wave of new wave anthology brethren. Add to this its skill at upending the audience’s every expectation at every corner, its heavy doses of humor and hearty helpings of agonizing gore and here we have a virtually stainless compendium of creepiness on our hands: all the trappings of an anthology franchise in the making I’d say.