The title of horror anthology Southbound implies a deep sojourn into racist, redneck Americana, locked and loaded under a blood red, lone star. This is a Democrat’s version of hell, ruled by Donald Trump’s tentacles and all of his Republican demons, suckered into building a never ending wall between America and the rest of the world.
Southbound suggests a one-way ticket to Hades, but its various characters are still on their terrifying journeys, clutching desperately to their ever diminishing morality.
The Southbound Anthology
What separates Southbound from other anthologies is the way each of the five stories is skilfully interwoven into the next. A radio DJ waxes lyrical about guilt and redemption, his voice craggy like God smoked 50 Marlboros and gargled with Jack Daniels, but the real trick is how characters and elements from one vignette seep into the next. Southbound feels like you’ve fallen into a drunken stupor whilst listening to a dark, cinematic mix tape on repeat, and each track conjuring up disturbing images from your subconscious.
The Way Out directed by Radio Silence throws you straight in the driving seat with Mitch and Jack, bloody and restless trying to escape winged demons that hover over the desert. The atmosphere is oppressive; the weight of the duo’s entrapment squeezes the frame so that escape is futile. We don’t know what Mitch and Jack have done but it must be bad if they don’t doubt the macabre apparitions that heard them silently like cattle towards their fate.
They can’t escape an infernal gas station that reruns Carnival of Souls constantly. Has America’s Faustian pact with oil-helped spew forth these floating monstrosities? Are they geysers of guilt drowning ordinary men like Mitch and Jack?
Guilt & Bad Conscience
An ingenious transition via a maid starts off Roxanne Benjamin’s segment, Siren. Sadie, Ava and Kim are in a band called The White Tights, party girls that play, “smooth jazz” (surely the most heinous of crimes?) but one of them seems to be responsible for the death of the fourth member, Alex. A blown tyre throws them into the dubious hospitality of a strange couple trapped in a 50s time warp.
Sadie can feel the Rosemary’s Baby vibes a mile off but Ava and Kim are blissfully unaware of the Race With The Devil undertones. Sadie’s perceived guilt is unexplained but makes her wrestle with her inner demons eventually leading to some very surprising places. Could Southbound be Alex’s cursed, experimental jazz, free forming from beyond her grave?
David Bruckner’s visceral entry, The Accident, involves a crunching hit and run in the dead of night but the driver, Lucas has a conscience and dials 911, the irony being is that his phone distracted him in the first place, causing the horrific injuries. The Accident is as close to black comedy as Southbound comes as Lucas is glued to his smart phone trying to save the life of his victim, whilst taking increasingly sadistic instructions from a phantom doctor in a deserted hospital.
Lucas’s predicament comes closest to Nietzsche’s writings on guilt and bad conscience, “We forget our guilt when we have confessed it to another, but the other does not usually forget it.”
Lovecraftian Home Invasion
Perhaps the most intriguing but ultimately the least satisfying episode is Patrick Horvath’s Jailbreak. Danny is desperate and means business, wielding a shotgun in a bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Near Dark or From Dusk Till Dawn. He wants his sister back and he wants her yesterday but she doesn’t want to leave her tattoo parlor and her demon buddies. Jailbreak is frantically paced with great ideas but the twist seems by the numbers without paying off.
And finally we’re back with Radio Silence and their thrilling, subversive wrap around piece The Way In. Let’s just say you could be watching a Lovecraftian home invasion movie that dovetails perfectly with the rest of Southbound and loops the entire film around again and again and again…
Southbound isn’t particularly scary, it has something far more unnerving. It has the quality of otherness, a slithering just below the surface that keeps it spinning on its own axis with some deftly placed visual clues like The White Tights poster stuck up in the bar from Jailbreak. Did Alex get left there too?
Southbound then swirls around in the same non-linear whirlpool as David Lynch’s Lost Highway, the most fun you’ve had in purgatory since Fred Madison pressed the intercom and hissed, “Dick Laurent is dead.”
Mark Farnsworth is Senior Film Writer for Globalcomment.com, teaches Film in East London and is currently working on two screenplays, The Mysteries and Fair Access. He also writes the Oh/Cult section for Brokenshark.co.uk.
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