Southbound (VOD Review)

Southbound thumbSouthbound, out now on various Video On-Demand services (Amazon Video, iTunes), weaves four different stories together into a playful take on anthology horror to create a strange, well-scored, creepy ride down a desert highway. While the stories don’t have a common theme, their connecting tissue comes in the form of a radio program that appears in each short and a change in point-of-view or, in one case, a character moving from one story right into the next one. It is a clever way to make it the entire film feel like a cohesive project, which has its advantages and disadvantages as far as effective storytelling goes. Luckily, despite some setbacks, each short film succeeds at keeping interest and maintaining an overall feel of unease in the viewer. Let’s take a look at Southbound.


Southbound contains a fairly large ensemble cast with no real standouts and no clear sore spots. This is somewhat surprising for an anthology-style film, where different directors, actors, and styles might have a chance to produce one story that excels or severely underperforms. While there was a story that I preferred out of the four being told, I wouldn’t say that it was so much far better than the rest to make anything else seem bad. There aren’t a lot of recognizable faces in the cast either, which sort of adds to the overall feel of unease that the viewer is treated to throughout the runtime. Without previous associations, we are left grasping at the narrative being played out before us to dole out bits of info to help make sense of the creepy scenes.

Each short film tends to be heavy on atmosphere and frequently light on answers, which is fine for the format for which it was going.  The setting for all the films is in and around a strange town on a stretch of desert highway. The characters in each short generally have a sense of being lost or in the wrong place. And the stories blending into eachother without distinct resolutions or clear answers helps to enhance that lost feeling for the viewer. Another quality that aids this format is that while each short is different from the last in the story it is telling, there aren’t magnificent jarring leaps in genre when moving from one to another. This allows the unease to continue building throughout the entirety of the film while the viewer wonders if each story really takes place in the same world or if it will all wrap up nicely in the end. This is simple, but very effective.

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Southbound, while definitely recognizable as a horror film, never really pretends to be something truly scary. It is creepy, it has frightening moments, it is tense, and it has plenty of gore, but it holds back from outright throwing scares at the audience. This comes to be appreciated, as anyone who has read any of my horror reviews knows, I abhor unearned jump scares. To not be able to predict when the tense, building environment would hit with something frightening was a refreshing change of pace.

The film is not without its problems. Southbound finds itself perhaps relying too heavily on its environment to keep the viewer engaged and while for the most part not having a lot of answers seems fine, each short story could have easily stretched itself out into a full feature and given some back story or epilogue that could have provided a more well-rounded viewing experience. As it is, the film seems happy to tell the stories it does in the order it does and doesn’t seem too concerned about immediate coherence. One of the stories in particular, gives a lot of back story for its characters, gets to the climax, and then just drops the viewer off in the lap of the next story without any real resolution at all. By the end, one just wonders if the format is more limiting than enabling for the different directors.

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Southbound is worth a watch for fans of creepy environments and not needing to know all the “why”s all the time. In the world of Southbound, “why” is not really an important question. And that works just fine for the action delivered on screen. A decent use of practical effects and a sparing use of special effects keeps the film mostly grounded in a believable world, except where it doesn’t want to be. And a tone-appropriate soundtrack and a fun radio DJ keep the viewer engaged for the fairly speedy 90 minutes of the film. Check out Southbound if you are looking for something different in your horror anthology movie watching.

Southbound cover


I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

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