Short Takes: Southbound

(Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath & Radio Silence, U.S., 2015)

It’s quite possible to have mixed feelings about Southbound—not because of the film’s quality but because of all the imitators it might spawn that can’t help but be worse. Loosely centered on a stretch of highway in the American West, this anthology of five horror tales is the rare group effort without a dud, as it cruises through variations on the genre with style and confidence.

Inevitably, some entries are more equal than others. Standouts include the opener (which always helps): we’re dropped in with two men on the road trying to escape unshakable wraiths—brilliant CGI chimeras that resemble a levitating daddy-longlegs. Southbound also gets high marks for macabre laughs in a car accident episode that’s blackly comic in its bloody farce: the driver is actually sympathetic and rushes the victim to the hospital, but the 911 operator with whom he’s in constant contact turns out to be less than helpful.

In addition to a Satanic-worship story involving an all-girl rock band, and the saga of a man who fights his way into the world of the undead in search of his sister (at a bar), there’s also a hard-edged home-invasion episode that slams the brakes on any lightheartedness. That story also underlines the whole film’s refreshing lack of a neurotic need to explain its every mystery. They don’t call it fear of the unknown for nothing.