Southbound starts with a quintessentially American sequence of events: the open road, a low-riding car, and a bored lady working at a gas station. Two men walk in, bloody. They are being chased. We will not know why until the end…
Borrowing non-linear structures and made up radio stations from the Tarantino book of genre filmmaking, Southbound is a derivative amble through horror that manages to be entertaining, and at times suspenseful, but never truly terrifying. It is never as clever as it thinks it is, being perfectly enjoyable whilst staying rather flat. Luckily it is a relatively brisk anthology film so there is never time to be bored.
The very nature of shorts means that they do not require context, leaving us with a situation that can be engaging without prior knowledge of the characters. Southbound can be seen to play with this concept, with only real minimal acknowledgement of events that have occurred in the past. Its circular structure suggests entrapment for each character as they inevitably go towards their grisly ends, additionally implying that people who do bad things get exactly what they deserve, being unable to outrun their choices.
With anthology stories, there is an inevitability that some are going to be better than others. Yet what I think the format allows is those indie filmmakers with only shorts to their names to get attached to a feature, thus raising their profile. Now, I know this isn’t the X Factor or Dragons Den, but if I had to give funding to one of them to make something bigger it would be David Bruckner with “The Accident”. It starts with a familiar premise: a man drives down an empty desert road and accidentally knocks a girl over, causing her fundamental damage. He does not know where he is, and is understandably panicked. The scene proceeds in a bizarre fashion which builds in suspense and creepiness due to the use of tight and propulsive editing. This was the only short that had me sat on the edge of my seat.
The one segment that feels like it could be a feature is “Siren”, directed by Roxanne Benjamin, which tells the story of a female rock band that get stranded with a flat tire. One feels with more fleshing out of the characters and the situation this could have resulted in fairly decent horror movie. These are cool girls; they are in a band, and they sleep with lots of strangers on their tours, they drive a van with all their stuff in it, and they banter and drink beer even when their car has broke down. The acting is a touch amateurish – a consistent theme throughout the film – but one senses with these characters a larger dynamic existing outside of the short. As it exists the premise, of which they are taken to a strangers home and something isn’t right, feels a little underdeveloped, the audience never quite sure what exactly is going on. This, I suppose, is to add to the sense of dread, but as it stands simply feels more half-assed than successful.
This is consistent with the rest of the film, where each short doesn’t exist so much as stories unto themselves but as a fragments that collide into one another, a structure stressed by the lack of chapter headings and by the small motifs linking the stories together. Each short relatively diverting in itself, it doesn’t add up to anything substantial.
Dir: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Scr: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Roxanne Benjamin, Susan Burke, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Dallas Hallam
Cast: Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Kristina Pesic, Fabienne Therese, Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks
Prd: Brad Miska, Roxanne Benjamin, Radio Silence, Greg Newman, Chris Harding
DOP: Tyler Gillett, Tarin Anderson, Alexandre Naufel, Andrew Shulkind
Music: The Gifted
Run time: 89 Minutes
Southbound is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from the 8th August.