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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #672

Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 16, 2015
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 89 minutes
Directors: Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Producers: Brad Miska, Roxanne Benjamin, Radio Silence, Greg Newman, Chris Harding
Screenplay: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Roxanne Benjamin, Susan Burke, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Dallas Hallam
Special Effects: Jason Collins, Josh Russell, Sierra Russell
Visual Effects: Dave Jacobson
Cinematography: Tyler Gillett, Tarin Anderson, Alexandre Naufel, Andrew Shulkind
Score: The Gifted
Editing: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Jason Eisner, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath
Studio: Willowbrook Regent Films
Distributor: The Orchard
Stars: Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Fabianne Therese, Hannah Marks, Nathalie Love, Kate Beahan, Susan Burke, Tyler Tuione, Gerald Downey, Larry Fessenden, Anessa Ramsey, Dana Gould, Hassie Harrison, Davey Johnson, Tipper Newton, Maria Olsen, Kristina Pesic, Matt Peters, Max Folkman, Nick Folkman

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] The Doors Five To One

[2] Chris Rea Road To Hell

[3] Steve Wariner All Roads Lead To You

 

I’ll never tire of anthologies. The compendium approach fits horror hand in glove and also addresses the woefully short attention span of many cinephiles (myself inclusive). Having been reared on a staple diet of Hammer and Amicus, then introduced to George A. Romero’s Creepshow just as I was coming of age, I always felt well catered for with this particular sub-genre. Naturally things dried up soon afterwards as horror fell from grace for almost two decades. However, with the likes of Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat and the first two V/H/S films leading the charge, this bite-sized style of filmmaking has become in vogue once again and it supplies an ideal stage for aspiring collectives to reveal their game to a wider audience. Southbound is the latest five-piece to fall into my lap and one look at the personnel involved should help settle those nerves from the get-go.

To be fair, while more than marketable as an anthology, the approach Southbound takes has more in common with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia as it takes a join-the-dots approach to merging its quintet of tales together into a cohesive whole and doesn’t require a wraparound to keep its audience on track. Directors Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and L.A.-based trio, Radio Silence, were hands on right throughout the creative process and the round the table mentality shows in just how seamless the end product is. We can still argue for our favorite segment, but those searching for defect will be hard pushed to come up with anything even remotely substantial. At a slender 89 minutes, it revs its engine, assumes cruise control and leaves us with blood-soaked tire tracks and the none too distant sound of encroaching buzzards. You guessed it, the sum of these here parts adds up and checks out; which makes appraising this rough little indie diamond both my pleasure and distinct honor.

“Regret and remorse, amends and atonement, that’s life, right? Well, this next one is for you. All you lost souls racing down that long road to redemption”

Set against a mostly barren, sun-bleached vista of the Southwestern desert and chaperoned by the deliciously disembodied tones of our host, The DJ (Larry Fessenden), we begin by being presented The Way Out. If only it were so easy for road gamers Mitch (Chad Villella) and Jack (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin). There’s something mighty The Twilight Zone about the paradoxical predicament these two weary travellers find themselves in and that’s a surefire way of getting this viewer’s full and undivided.

“Haven’t you figured it out? They’ve come to collect… there’s no way out. We fucked up”

Remorseful and increasingly desperate, the pair find themselves inexplicably drawn to a run-down gas station and that ain’t even the half of their quandary. You see, they appear to have snagged the undesirable attention of some decidedly inhospitable looking hovering harbingers and it appears that whatever ill-deeds Mitch and Jack are culpable of are about to catch up with them.

Once this little situation has been “resolved”, we drift effortlessly into our second segment, Siren. Sadie (Fabianne Therese), Ava (Hannah Marks), and Kim (Nathalie Love) are a trio of road tripping musicians masquerading as The White Tights who’ve somehow found themselves thrust into dust courtesy of an unplanned blow-out on their camper van. Lucky for them, dotty Betty (Susan Burke) and date-rape Dale (Davey Johnson) just so happen to be passing and offer the girls a home-visit in exchange for a spot of back-seat bewilderment as the quirky couple rattle on seemingly oblivious.

“We offer our gratitude for the beast, for this blood”

There’s nothing even vaguely sinister about meat loaf with the Kensingtons right? I guess that depends whether you’re vegetarian. As far as dinner parties go (see Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation & David Guy Levy’s Would You Rather for menu options), this one’s right up there with supper with the Sawyers. Nuff said!

“Well folks, the mind is a tricky demon. I’d say, all you can do is turn the music up, hit the gas and keep on moving forward. Try not to linger on the things you left behind”

Meanwhile, how’s this for unjust desserts? The Accident charts the road follies of hit and ponder one-man chick plough, Lucas (Mather Zickel), definitive proof that men suck balls when it comes to multitasking, particularly when seated behind the wheel. Having unwittingly fashioned a 7-10 split out of the once pretty pins of some teenage roadkill, Lucas does the only humane thing and dials 911 for assistance.

Regrettably, with no GPS to pinpoint his surroundings, it is left to the dispatcher and EMT to keep him calm and talk him through what will be required of him to save the girl. We’re not talking anything too heavy, just a little lifesaving surgery, and there’s an emergency room not too far from his coordinates so Lucas prepares to make it someone else’s problem. Yeah, good luck with that and you may wish to scrub up son.

If ever an indicator was blatant that you just stumbled into the wrong seedy southwestern bar, then the name The Trap hung above the door would surely be it. Jailbreak offers us a bar stool, while out-of-shape hero of the hour, Danny (David Yow), endeavors to gallantly rescue his estranged sister, Jesse (Tipper Newton), from whatever questionable cult collective she has gotten mixed up with currently. Should be an in and out job right?

“You may be an old dog, but you can still learn some new tricks. So what’s stopping you? You don’t owe the world shit”

Alas Jesse is more your in kind of gal than out and big bro has only gone and unwittingly fisted the beehive so to speak. With the supremely sinister Maria Olsen propping up the bar, you can imagine the kind of patrons The Trap welcomes with outstretched talons and Danny boy ain’t on the guest list. If only he could see the world of pain closing in around him, then perhaps he would have settled on sending sis a postcard and keeping his whiskers out of family affairs that quite clearly don’t concern him.

Over at the nearby Freez’n Over, perky princess Jem (Hassie Harrison) and her Yankee doodle parents, Cait and Daryl (Kate Beahan) and Daryl (Gerald Downey) are all set to return to their vacation condo and live it up PG-13 style. Certification is a bitch on heat, never less so than when your happy holiday home is about to be invaded by a trio of masked marauders to the tune of hard-R.

“Lock your doors. Make those tires burn. Tell your family you love them and kiss the past goodbye once and for all. Because every road has got to end somewhere… am I right?”

The Way In does precisely what it states on the road sign, and while I could spot the twist ending coming through the smoldering asphalt well in advance, that just provided even more time to rub my hands together gleefully as Southbound doesn’t so much wave you off as signpost you straight back in.

Ordinarily I would rate each vignette personally before arriving at my over-arching judgement, but it’s immense credit to all involved here that I refrain from applying such split logic. It would be fair to say that Bruckner’s middle segment is shrewdly positioned and the incline to this fearsome apex is more notable than the flip-side. That said, bum notes are at a distinct premium, and there are countless allusions to deeper meaning tucked away in the film’s innards to ensure that our interest remains piqued. Sin and regret are prevalent themes, with each irreversible decision resulting in grisly consequence, but exposition is kept to the barest of minimums to keep the wheels consistently greased.  

“For all you lost souls racing down that long road to redemption and all you sinners running from your past but heading straight into that pit of darkness up ahead. We’re all on the same endless highway… the one with no name, no exits… looking for a way out of tonight and into tomorrow”

Southbound provides a smart contemporary take on the EC Comics compendiums of old but does more than sufficient to carve out an identity all of its own. The screenplay is tighter than spray-on denim, the dialogue witty and natural, performances on-the-money plus change without exception, and most critically, it knows just how to entertain and implicate its audience.

Subsequent views will reveal whether or not the dust continues to rise, but judging by the heady funk of baked tarmac stanking up my nostrils right now, I’d say I’ll be seeing this chick again sooner rather than later. Easy on the eye right? A little humorless perhaps but the shifts in this roadside diner are far longer than the in-roads. If only you knew the half of it.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Continuing the tradition V/H/S started for making shit far more literal than we’ve prepared ourselves for, Southbound has no end of roadkill to gorge your senses on, and while the CGI serves the purpose of its meager origins soundly enough, the detail-loaded practical effects serve up some commendably sloppy seconds. All this carnage leaves little time for titillation and I hold the meat loaf squarely responsible. ☠ OPTICAL SPOILERS SOUTHBOUND ☠

Read V/H/S/2 Appraisal
Read V/H/S/Viral Appraisal
Read The Theatre Bizarre Appraisal
Read Little Deaths Appraisal

 

Richard Charles Stevens

aka

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

#CreatorsUnite
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017

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