While many of the contributors to Southbound also lent their talents to the first two entries in the V/H/S franchise, this latest release is a different kind of anthology entirely. While V/H/S and its superior sequel (the less said of atrocious third entry V/H/S: Viral the better) offer a selection of short segments that are entirely unconnected both from each other and the overarching “wraparound” story, Southbound marks a different approach to anthology storytelling: the stories we’re met with here mostly mesh into one narrative, with the emphasis instead shifted to showing how each set of characters have found their way into the main stream of the story. It’s a fresh and – to the best of my recollection – mostly untapped angle on this kind of filmmaking, and it’s an ingenuity that sees the film eclipse the likes of V/H/S and The ABCs of Death to emerge as the finest horror film of its kind in quite some time.
Directorial collective and V/H/S veterans Radio Silence helm the opening segment, which sees two men on the run from an unspecified incident from which they seem to have emerged a little worse for wear. As they argue about their next move on a desolate stretch of desert road, one is brutally despatched by a mysterious winged figure, a motif which recurs frequently over the course of the film. From here we move through four more short stories that connect in unexpected and creative ways, and run the gauntlet impressively in terms of style and tone. Roxanne Benjamin (who previously took production credits both on V/H/S and Riley Stearns’ stunning Faults) makes her directorial debut in a convincing, unnerving and blackly humorous segment about an all-girl rock band who become stranded when their bus breaks down, and from here on, Southbound never lets up.
With most horror films of this kind, consistency has a tendency to become an issue. With a broad range of styles and storytelling on show, a variance, however slight, in quality is almost inevitable, but it’s not an issue that afflicts Southbound. David Bruckner’s segment, set mostly in an abandoned hospital, is dripping with both blood and suspense and provides the film with its high point, while The Pact 2 director Patrick Horvath’s segment is compelling, mysterious viewing that arguably doesn’t tie in with the main story quite as convincingly as the others.
All of Southbound‘s chapters merit further examination and praise, but to do so would be to unravel too many of the film’s central mysteries. Instead, what’s best to say is that it’s a blisteringly creative and remarkably consistent slice of roadside terror that has provided 2016 with its best horror film so far. Seriously impressive.
Southbound is released on DVD in the UK on August 8th.