Directors: Roxanne Benjamin (“Siren”), David Bruckner (“The Accident”), Patrick Horvath (“Jailbreak”), Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez) (“The Way Out/The Way In”)
Writers: Roxanne Benjamin (“Siren”), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (“The Way Out/The Way In”), David Bruckner (“The Accident”), Susan Burke (“Siren”), Dallas Hallam (“Jailbreak”), Patrick Horvath (“Jailbreak”)
Stars: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Kristina Pesic, Fabianne Therese, Mather Zickel, David Yow, Tipper Newton, Maria Olsen, Susan Burke, Davey Johnson
You know how sometimes, you run across a few movies every so often that are just so off-the-beaten-path; so compellingly, awesomely creepy, deeply unsettling and just so fucking weird, that you’re almost afraid to review them? That you might be giving them a high score for all the wrong reasons, so you have to let them sit in your head and marinate for a while? Or better yet, you must see them again, just to make sure you weren’t hallucinating how great they were?
Well, 2015’s SOUTHBOUND is one of those movies. One of many that I will be revisiting and finally putting my stamp on, as I review them. And as it turns out, every damn thing I thought about this flick the first time I saw it, was absolutely warranted.
This anthology is directed by ROXANNE BENJAMIN (the “Don’t Fall” segment of the femme-centric horror anthology, “XX”), DAVID BRUCKNER, (the “Amateur Night” episode of “V/H/S”, which gave birth to the spinoff, SiREN, which he also wrote and directed), PATRICK HORVATH (THE PACT 2), and members of the acting/writing/producing collective known as ‘RADIO SILENCE’, most of whom wrote, directed and starred in the “10/31/98” segment of the first V/H/S movie. (SILENCE’S members are MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN, TYLER GILLETT, JUSTIN MARTINEZ and CHAD VILLELLA).
If the above quote from one of my favorite Vincent Price films holds true, then you don’t want to be within ten-thousand miles of anyone in this movie. Because the fucked-up situations they find themselves in are of their own making, and I couldn’t imagine spending eternity in any one of them without shuddering.
So first, the obvious, for those who need simple and distinct explanations. The movie is called SOUTHBOUND, so you can pretty much guess where it’s all taking place, right? Maybe not the most original conception of Hell – or so it seems – but definitely a far cry from the depictions you’re more familiar with, from movies like the HELLRAISER series, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, and any other film you can think of that has shown us “Old Scratch” and his eternal place of residence.
In the best tradition of horror anthologies like the cult classic TRICK ‘R’ TREAT, SOUTHBOUND contains four interlocking stories, wrapped in loving brimstone by the main tale, “The Way Out/The Way In.”
In “The Way Out”, two desperately scared, blood-spattered men, Jack (MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN) and Mitch (CHAD VILLELLA) are seen in their truck, fleeing…someone? Something? It doesn’t matter at first, because whatever it is they’re running from, all they really want to do is get home. But the sinister voice of the DJ on the radio, provided by none other than everyone’s favorite “horror Renaissance man”, LARRY FESSENDEN, suggests that’s probably not going to happen. You know the old saying, about people in Hell wanting ice water? Never was it more appropriate for a situation than this one.
They stop at “Roy’s Motel Café”, one of the skeeviest looking roadside stops since the motel in VACANCY. Besides the scary-looking patrons inside, there’s also a creepy-as-hell waitress, Sutter (KRISTINA PESIC of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD), who coldly informs Jack that the bathroom is for “customers only.” He buys some gas to fulfill that requirement, so he can use the facilities. As Jack disappears into the head, Mitch gets even more creeped out by sudden tremors that shake the entire place, while Sutter and the customers look on, unfazed. As for Jack in the bathroom…well, let’s rewind a bit. Guess I didn’t mention the spooky figures floating in the distance, that Mitch kept seeing while they were on the road? Well, one of them assaults Jack in the bathroom while he’s washing up, leading the two men to haul ass outta there tout suite. But if you think things have been strange so far, hold this movie’s beer, wouldja? You haven’t begun to see fucked-up yet.
Let’s just say that as Jack and Mitch hightail it out of there, the demonic figures play an important part as to how that story ends. Well, not that it comes to an ending, more than it segues into the next tale almost seamlessly.
“Siren” focuses on a three-girl group: Sadie (FABIENNE THERESE of SEQUENCE BREAK), Kim (NATHALIE LOVE of 20TH CENTURY WOMEN) and Ava (HANNAH MARKS of Showtime’s WEEDS and the BBC America series DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY). They’re close friends who actually are a girl-group band. After crashing for the night at Roy’s, the girls hit the road again, on their way to the next gig, when their van breaks down in the middle of the desert.
The next car that comes along after a very long wait, brings them in contact with seemingly quaint, older couple Dale (DAVEY JOHNSON) and Betty (SUSAN BURKE), who invite them to stay for dinner at their place, until a replacement tire can be found for their flat. Of the three rambunctious ladies, Sadie is the most reluctant, getting a gut feeling that something is kind of off about their nice if slightly loopy hosts.
Not only is Sadie 100% correct, but things only continue to get stranger and ookier from there, when the girls have dinner with their new friends and the new friends’ neighbors, the Kensingtons: Raymond (DANA GOULD of MOB CITY and STAN AGAINST EVIL) and Bunny (ANESSA RAMSEY of RITES OF SPRING and THE SIGNAL), with their spooky adopted twin sons in tow, (MAX AND NICK FOLKMAN).
Eating the disgusting repast soon leaves Kim and Ava sick and acting very strangely, and Sadie running for her life. A dark secret is revealed – not just about their hosts and the Kensingtons, but a tragic and needless event that haunts the girls – Sadie in particular – that informs us that this band once had four members instead of three, and someone’s to blame for the reason why they’re now a trio.
Fleeing from the horror of this devastating truth, Sadie runs right into “The Accident”, which brings her into brutal contact with Luther, (MATHER ZICKEL – I LOVE YOU, MAN and BALLS OF FURY). The less I say about this segment, the more surprised, horrified and grossed-out you’ll be. But I can’t rave enough about the performances given here by both Zickel and Therese, and the insanely good practical effects work of Josh Russell and Sierra Russell, which is vital to it as well. This is the kind of nightmare we’ve all had once or twice in our lives, and if you haven’t, you probably will after watching this episode.
At the end of this jaw-dropping assault on the senses, Luther is allowed to leave (note I didn’t say he just ‘left’), presumably to relive the horror all over again. But a phone call he receives takes us into the next tale, “The Jailbreak”, which isn’t like any prison escape attempt you’ve ever seen.
The caller in question, Sandy (MARIA OLSEN – LORDS OF SALEM and STARRY EYES) enters into a seedy-looking dive bar (take quick note of the name of that bar, which is shown only once, but it tells you everything you need to know), and orders up some drinks from the surly bartender, who gets into an absurd argument with her about the front door. A door that Danny (DAVID YOW – I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE.) comes busting through, shotgun in hand. The assumption is that he’s there to rob the place, but it turns out his mission is a lot more important – to him, at least: to find and rescue his “lost” sister, Jesse (TIPPER NEWTON of THE ABC’S OF DEATH and THE MINDY PROJECT).
Danny tries to “extract” his sibling, but instead winds up finding out some mind-blowing news about her, and how futile the task he took it upon himself to complete actually is. At the climax, a young woman that Jesse sees sets up the final story, “The Way In.”
That young woman, Jem (HASSIE HARRISON – DEMENTIA and THE IRON ORCHARD) is on a last roadtrip with her mom and dad, Cait (KATE BEAHAN – MATRIX REVOLUTIONS and FLIGHTPLAN) and Daryl (GERALD DOWNEY – LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD and the TV series LEVERAGE), before leaving to go to school. Arriving at a rented house as part of their trip, the family thinks they’ll be settling in for a night of board games and reliving old memories. But some new ones are about to be made, and none of them at all good. They’re about to become victims of a violent home invasion, but this one has a ghastly twist that you won’t see coming.
The horrifying events that take place eventually dovetail into…you guessed it, the beginning of the movie, where we rejoin Jack and Mitch, finally clear about what it was they were running from, and why they were covered in blood. And we can only assume, very much like the concept of Hell in the AMC TV series PREACHER, that an eternally recycling day of horror starts all over again.
So whether the motive was for revenge, for atonement, for fulfilling a destiny not meant to be, or even for reaching your final destination to a place that some would call Hades, but is actually your idea of Heaven, SOUTHBOUND will leave you feeling like you’ve just witnessed the rebirth of a horror anthology classic. It’s like DEAD OF NIGHT, retold on handfuls of steroids, ecstasy and deadly nightshade, and then propelled at us in a brand, spanking new 21st century model. And bear in mind as you watch – none of the details of what makes this Hell for Everyone what it is and why are spoon-fed to you; half the fun is paying close attentions to the clues that tell you the background of each story. The “Devil” truly is in the details here.
Although this is hardly the ‘first time at the rodeo’ for any of them, my compliments to all of the directors, writers and producers for juggling all of the balls of this complex collection in the air, and not dropping a single one. I’ve always been a firm believer in having a great wraparound story for any anthology, horror or otherwise, and the Radio Silence guys do not disappoint here, perhaps to help make up for how lame the main tale in the first V/H/S film was. The continuity is maintained without the seams showing, which all by itself is remarkable, but special kudos must be awarded to director David Bruckner (“SiREN”) for really delivering on the “money shot” episode that holds the whole damned thing together. It is by far the most gruesome and memorable of the bunch, and considering the intensity of the other vignettes, that is saying a LOT.
If you loved the soundtracks of STRANGER THINGS and IT FOLLOWS, you will get a kick out of the analog synth artistry of composers The Gifted (Louis Castle and James Bairian), whose work reminded me of early Tangerine Dream scores at some points, mixed in with a little of the work of Gary Chang and David M. Frank from the Eighties. The sinister themes and discordant action cues only help to augment and highlight the key moments of tension and terror, without beating you over the head mercilessly with it. SOUTHBOUND also has some of the best-sounding original tunes I’ve heard in quite a while within a film framework. They’re so good, in fact, I’m hoping like Hell (pun intended) that there’s an accompanying soundtrack album for those as well.
Overall, not being sure that this flick was as good on the first go-round, I was happy to pay it another visit, and it makes me even happier to award SOUTHBOUND that rare four-out-of-five stars. If you missed this the first time around, by all means give it a spin. You won’t be sorry…unless there’s something in your past that you have to be sorry for…