Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Southbound: Where the Twilight Zone and V/H/S Intersect

Get your kicks on Route 666. Cellular and GPS service never seem to work along this lonely stretch of interstate, but there will be plenty of locals coming around. Unfortunately, they are not so helpful. All road trips take macabre detours in the wickedly creepy horror anthology Southbound (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Many of the filmmakers who contributed to the V/H/S franchise, including the Radio Silence guys who capped off the original film, tag-teamed on Southbound. Fortunately, their styles mesh easily, because the constituent story arcs deliberately run together. All five are decidedly scary, starting with Radio Silence’s The Way Out. Two bloody and bleary-eyed rough necks appear to be caught in a sort of loop, much like Isaac Ezban’s The Incident, except the weary duo are also being chased by spectral skeleton monsters that have been summoned to punish them for some profoundly transgressive sin. Just what did they do? Hold your horses, because more will be revealed when they reappear later.

The Way Out ends in the roadside motel where Roxanne Benjamin’s Siren begins. A hipster-punk version of The Runaways is checking out and hitting the road for their next gig. When a flat tire leaves them stranded by the side of the road, a rather mysterious family offers them shelter. Most of the band foolishly trusts them but not Sadie, their lead singer. In fact, she is quite confused and alarmed by how much they know about the recent death of a fellow band member.

The third story rather brusquely cuts off the second in an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire kind of way. David Bruckner’s aptly titled Accident also happens to be the creepiest, most intense arc of the consistently strong film. Poor Lucas did indeed run someone over due to his own negligence. However, he tries to do the right thing, but the malevolent 911 operator has different ideas. This works particularly well because of the spot-on writing. Several times Lucas is sufficiently alert to question the sinister voice’s dubious statements, but his desperation makes him accept each explanation. It turns into a real mind-reeler, yet it is believable enough to be deeply unsettling.

Again, we follow one of the hitherto unseen principals of Accident into Patrick Horvath’s Jailbreak. A man walks into a bar. Complications ensue. It would be spoilery to reveal anymore, but Horvath’s segment establishes some of the evil nature of this localized zone of supernatural and psychological mayhem.

Radio Silence comes back for more with The Way In, which eventually loops back into The Way Out again. How they get there is a twisted trip. Let’s just say it ends well, at least from the genre fans’ perspective (but for the characters, not so much).

There is no dead weight in Southbound and hardly any slack. Although Benjamin has primarily been active in producer roles, Southbound announces her arrival as a major directorial talent. In some respects, Siren is the most conventional of the five (or four, depending on how you count them) component arcs, but she really kicks it up several notches.

Even though there are not a lot of familiar faces in the cast, the performances are all rock solid. Mather Zickel is a particular standout as Lucas, the tormented driver. For genre fans, the voice of Larry Fessenden as the local DJ is also instantly reassuring. Frankly, by horror standards, there is not a great deal of blood or gore in the film, but there are plenty of scares. Highly recommended for those who appreciate franchises like V/H/S and the original Twilight Zone, Southbound opens this Friday (2/5) in New York, at the Village East.