In my perfect world, all horror movies are scary fun with some wiggle room for self-aware hilarity. Weird is a quality so far from my horror radar that it took me some time to realize we’d found a good one.
Described as five interconnected tales of terror, Southbound sounds like a dime a dozen little of this, little of that. Its sort of a thriller that straddles over science fiction and horror. Having no idea what to expect, we nearly turned it off after the first segment. We stayed because I liked the look of it and didn’t mind the weird aftertaste.
Bloody, dirty, freaked out men drive a pick-up on a dusty deserted road. You see something black floating in the distance, then two somethings. In another shot it’s closer. The acting gives me doubts, but then they pull out of a diner/gas station and speed off as the skeletal wraiths get closer and there’s so many of them. Straight down the road they pass the same gas station/diner. Further down the road they pass it again. Like a Tales From the Darkside, they’re trapped maybe in hell and the wraiths are coming to collect.
The special effects are super cheesy but then we’re on to the next tale.
Throughout most of this movie I was on the fence. A few times I was tempted to turn it off, but I enjoyed having no clue what was going to happen. The second tale has been done before and done much better, but it sets up the third story and confirms we’re in hell or heading there fast. This segment is the song and dance in Bollywood, time to go get a snack or refill. No need to hit pause, but don’t turn it off because the third tale is worth the wait.
A band of three woman are driving on what looks like the same road when their van breaks down. Would you accept a ride from a way too friendly satanist couple? Eat their fleshy roast? React when these strangers know the name of your missing fourth bandmate who died because you’re a bad, bad person? Would you run? Sure. Right into a car.
Southbound hits its stride with the last three stories. This is where the film earns its horror badge. What happens to this girl at the hands of the man who was busy on his phone when he hit her with his car is horrific. That he sincerely wants to help her makes it all the more delightful. This creepy, gross, what-is-going-on segment, directed and written by David Bruckner, fully commits and swallows you up. The rapid escalation and disturbing conclusion left me stunned as we rolled into the fourth tale.
The fourth tale gives us David Yow (of The Jesus Lizard) on an ill-advised rampaged to find his missing sister. This one is quick and dirty. While it doesn’t go beyond the seed of an idea, solid writing, directing and performances make this a satisfying followup. Let’s put David Yow in everything.
The final segment features parents finishing ice cream with their daughter the weekend before she’s off to college. We watch them pull out of the parking from the POV of bad news. Home invasion stories are hard to watch. There’s a lot of mileage gained just by tapping into worst nightmare land. This one turns from random to provoked and brings us back to the beginning of the loop.
This is a good movie. It’s not great, but I appreciate what they tried to do. I wasn’t once compelled to pull my feet up. That’s my litmus test. Good horror entertains. Great ones make me pull my feet up juuust in case there’s someone under the couch with an axe about to chop my feet off. Why this someone would wait until the scariest moment in a movie to make a move is a cruel technicality.