The horror anthology “Southbound” (now playing in select cities nationwide) has just enough smarts to save it from being just another dumb horror flick — but lacks enough inspiration to elevate it to the level of truly memorable horror.
In short: Five interlocking stories chronicle the misfortunes of travelers unlucky enough to travel a desolate desert highway. (watch the trailer)
The gimmick of “interlocking horror stories” sounds much more compelling than this film actually delivers. For all intents, these five stories exist virtually independent of each other — only a thin thread of connective tissue links one story to the next. For instance, a non-speaking character might witness the end of one story, then walk across the street into the beginning of the next story. And that’s the extent of the “interlocking” nature of the stories. Don’t get too excited about the prospect of piecing together one overall arc or character that binds all five stories — “Soundbound” is really just five supernatural stories set in the desert. (At least “V/H/S” had an intriguing overarching plot that threaded together its anthology of vignettes.)
While the five stories may vary in overall quality, “Southbound” does achieve something quite rare in the genre of anthology films: it maintains a consistent look, feel and tone to each story. It’s quite clear these vaguely-related vignettes all take place in the same universe – which allows the transitions between stories to feel organic and less jarring than the usual anthology series.
Even if one embraces the fragmented nature of “storytelling via vignettes,” then comes the trap that most anthology collections fall into: the stories vary in degrees of quality. The vignette about a motorist who accidentally runs over a woman (“The Accident”) is undoubtedly the most thrilling of the bunch, but the other four vary from good to OK. All five stories at least maintain a base level of intrigue that keeps the audience tuned in — while none of the stories are outright bad, only one of them is genuinely compelling.
To be fair, each of the five stories starts off promising — but only one maintains a legitimate horror-thriller edge from beginning to end without resorting to a plot device out of the story. When in doubt, “Southbound” reverts to a disappointing array of generic horror genre conventions: shadowy figure jump scares, pentagrams, cloak-wearing cult worshippers, demons and skeletal apparitions. This is just lazy and unoriginal.
Final verdict: Fans of the horror anthology sub-genre (ie, “V/H/S” and “Creepshow”) will get a kick out of “Southbound.” General movie audiences will be generally entertained, despite the uneven selection of horror vignettes.
“Southbound” is now playing in select cities nationwide. This horror thriller is rated R for bloody horror violence, language throughout and brief drug use.