'Southbound': Film Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Far more cohesive than is usual for such efforts.

This horror anthology features five twisted tales set along a dusty highway.

The horror anthology genre gets a shot in the arm with Southbound, an uncommonly cohesive and intelligent example of the form. Featuring five spooky tales taking place on and around a dusty highway going nowhere, the film avoids the cheap shocks and campy humor seen all too often in such efforts. Although the majority of the entries don't quite live up to their ambitions, one at least is a gem worthy of The Twilight Zone.

Southbound, directed by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and the collective Radio Silence, recently served as the opening-night attraction of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Scary Movies series.

Its tales linked by the commentary of a radio DJ voiced by genre stalwart Larry Fessenden, the film begins with Radio Silence's The Way Out, in which two blood-soaked men, who've clearly had a long and perilous night, seek refuge in a roadside diner. After cleaning themselves up, they attempt to move on down the road, only to repeatedly wind up at the same place as if trapped in a hellish loop. But things get even worse when they're attacked by giant, insect-like creatures who, thanks to the inventive design and special effects, are genuinely scary.

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Benjamin's Siren tells the story of a an all-female rock band trio, still mourning the unexplained death of one of its members, who make the common horror film mistake of having their vehicle break down in the desert. They reluctantly accept the offer of a ride and shelter by a Good Samaritan couple who serve them dinner in the company of neighbors and a pair of spooky male twins. But the mysterious "Sunday Roast" served doesn't sit well in the stomachs of two of the three women (the third is a vegetarian, and also more than a little suspicious), leading to a dramatic revelation that, while predictable, delivers plenty of goosebumps.

The film's clear highlight is Bruckner's Accident, in which a distracted businessman driver accidentally runs down a hapless young woman on the deserted highway. Although it first seems that he's going to opt for a hit-and-run, he does the right thing and calls 911, only to be advised by the voice that, since he can't identify his whereabouts, he should take the victim to the nearest emergency room. He proceeds to do so, only to discover that the hospital is abandoned and that he must perform emergency surgery while guided by the 911 voices. But his heroic efforts go unrewarded in this perverse tale that features diabolical plot twists.

Things go downhill from there, with Horvath's Jailbreak, about a shotgun-toting man who tries to rescue his long-lost sister who turns out not to want to be found, and Radio Silence's The Way In, about a horrific home invasion conducted by a group of masked men, not adding up to very much.

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The vignettes are cleverly interwoven by having situations or characters bleeding over from one to the next, and despite the multiple helmers and scripters involved the film boasts a strong stylistic consistency. Featuring fine performances by its ensemble — Fabianne Therese, as the suspicious rocker, and Mather Zickel, as the ill-fated driver, are particularly outstanding — Southbound should well please genre fans nostalgic for the likes of Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow

Production: Willowbrook Regent Films
Cast: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Hannah Marks, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Mather Zickel, David Yow, Tipper Newton
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Screenwriters: Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Hallam, Patrick Horvath
Producers: Roxanne Benjamin, Chris Harding, Brad Miska, Greg Newman
Executive producers: Christopher Alender, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Malik B. Ali, David A. Smith
Directors of photography: Tarin Anderson, Tyler Gillett, Alexandre Naufel, Andrew Shulkind
Production designer: Jennifer Moller
Editors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Jason Eisener, Tyler Gillett, Patrick Horvath
Costume designer: Dominique Dawson
Composer: The Gifted

Not rated, 89 minutes