Welcome to Scared in Segments, a monthly column devoted to horror anthologies big and small. If you don’t know what an anthology is, it’s a film that includes a collection of short stories or segments (self-contained or connected). As for anthology television, series can be episodic or seasonal, but the former will take precedence here. Now, in each edition of this column, you’ll get background info as well as insight on the monthly pick. If you’re ready for some short-form horror, pull up a seat as I’ve got a story for you…
Bad things happen to bad people — it’s a common notion that morbidly comforts many, whereas others know pain and misery aren’t selective. Movies have helped plant the idea that karmic reward is possible; horror has emphasized it. In the desert-set anthology Southbound, various people’s lives are affected by forces beyond their understanding. Not everyone here is a model citizen; those who are, still feel the undeniable effects of the unusual as the hot sun beats down on them.
” Southbound shirks the idea that a movie anthology needs to be disconnected in nature.”
Filmed in the sweltering Mojave Desert, Southbound shirks the idea that a movie anthology needs to be disconnected in nature. Rather, this collection of creepy tales shares a universe where no one’s story is entirely self-contained. “Everyone was in constant communication, which was nice for an anthology,” reported Chad Villella of Radio Silence. The movie is produced by Bloody Disgusting founder Brad Miska and it saw the return of filmmakers from his previous anthology, V/H/S. In addition to the hyperlinking element, there is no found-footage theme.
Miska first wanted to make a more traditional anthology called “Subgenre” before reworking the idea with the directors. While David Bruckner enjoyed the freedom of working on a movie like V/H/S, he acknowledged Southbound was about the “big picture.” Still, he and his fellow directors did not want to “lose the do-anything spirit” of their last collaboration.
The Framing Story — “The Way Out“
Directed by Radio Silence
Written by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
We’re immediately thrown into a strange situation we know virtually nothing about as two men are caught in what looks to be a time loop. As the bloodied men, played by Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella themselves, stop at a remote gas station, they raise the suspicions of the store clerk. And upon leaving, the pair realizes they is no escaping — each time they drive away from the station, they only return to it in the next moment. This is when their demonic pursuer finally appears and viciously kills one of its prey. The lone survivor is then lured to a nearby motel where more of the spectral stalkers lurk. One leads him into a unit that becomes his inescapable grave as well as a visceral reminder of his past misdeeds.
This opening story undoubtedly will confuse audiences, maybe even mislead them about the nature of the two men. By the end of the film, it becomes abundantly clear how things came to be and why the title “The Way Out” is so appropriate. Until then, the same motel is where the next segment starts.
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Story 2 — “Siren“
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin
Written by Roxanne Benjamin & Susan Burke
Three musicians — Sadie (Fabianne Therehostse), Ava (Hannah Marks), and Kim (Nathalie Love) — check out of the very same motel and head for their latest gig. En route, their van breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A couple drives by and offers them a lift to their home; Sadie warily goes along with her bandmates despite her valid reservations.
The house’s retro appearance and the host’s offbeat personalities in Roxanne Benjamin‘s directorial debut are a tip-off of something weird going on in “Siren.” The story unfolds like a situation from classic ’70s horror features of yesteryear, and it ends on a hazardous note. It’s really best to go into this one with a blank slate.
Story 3 — “The Accident“
Written & directed by David Bruckner
A distracted man named Lucas (Mather Zickel) is driving along a desert highway when he suddenly slams into a woman who runs in front of his car. Urged by an EMT worker and a dispatcher on the phone, Lucas rushes to an empty medical facility nearby. The disembodied voices coach him on how to help the dying woman, but his efforts are in vain.
Bruckner stages the most frenzied story of the bunch. “The Accident” is an especially riveting yarn as there’s really only one character who is physically present; the victim is more of a prop and the voices on the phone act like Lucas‘ conscience. This ends on a painful note because while Lucas does everything he can to right a wrong, he still acts in his own self-interest. Chilling.
Story 4 — “Jailbreak“
Directed by Patrick Horvath
Written by Dallas Hallam & Patrick Horvath
Not too far from Lucas‘ last-seen location is a bar where trouble is brewing. As an argument breaks out among the barkeeper (Matt Peters) and a patron (Maria Olsen), a stranger named Danny (David Yow) bursts in while wielding a gun. He demands to know the whereabouts of his missing sister. While Danny manages to find his sibling, he doesn’t do so without making a few enemies along the way.
Horvath goes for broke with an urgent cocktail of Feast and Evil Dead vibes in “Jailbreak,” a story told with breakneck speed. It doesn’t quite measure up to “The Accident,” but it also has the issue of just simply lacking in suspense or intrigue. Still, its unpredictability keeps you curious.
Story 5 — “The Way In”
Directed by Radio Silence
Written by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
A family of three (Hassie Harrison, Kate Beahan, and Gerald Downey) is spending quality time together at a vacation house in the desert before the daughter goes away to college. As they come home to their rental, they are besieged by masked intruders looking for something in the house. While the daughter gets away, the assailants make a grave mistake that will cost them their souls.
ADS ARE SCARY
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Rounding things off is a serviceable home invasion story that ties directly into the wraparound. It not only explains the floating, demon-like reapers, it also explains why the world in Southbound is very much like purgatory. Not many anthologies come full circle like this one.
“[…] truly one of the more consistent anthologies in recent years.”
The modern anthology has a tendency to feel disjointed and incoherent. That’s largely on account of them being Frankensteined together from existing works. Even though it’s true this movie has multiple drivers at the wheel, they all work in unison to achieve that rare feat of uniformity. A lone director can pull it off, too, but the filmmakers here still reach the same page. Their collaboration yields what is truly one of the more consistent anthologies in recent years. Anyone who dislikes portmanteau films because they lack cohesion will reevaluate that opinion after seeing Southbound.
Southbound is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Discuss the film with the Nightmare on Film Street community on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!