We have seen good and bad horror films in the past few years (mostly bad), but Southbound is something else entirely. It follows five different stories that are sprawling and intertwined, including two criminals trying to get back home, a girl band staying at an eccentric couple’s home, a man trying to get home to his wife, a brother desperately trying to save his sister, and a family vacation that ends in bloodshed. In all of these stories, nothing ends well, and the common ground for these tales of horror is the actual ground itself and the fact that all are apparently set in one location. Referred to as “the middle of nowhere”, this location is used almost as an unlikely projection of Hell itself, with demons and floating skeletal creatures looming and watching over the characters, monitoring their every movement, and having dramatic effects on the stories that unfold.
Another connecting thread is the DJ to whom all the characters listen; this DJ seems to be aware of all their sins, struggles and hidden demons. Each and every character has a hidden secret, almost a dark omen inside of them, and as those layers bubble to the surface, the horror escalates. It’s an understated kind of horror, unnerving and deeply chilling, and by the time you get to the end of the journey, you understand that the deep moral of the story is that, no matter how hard you try, karma always catches up with you. Another underlying message in all of this is that everyone has skeletons in their closet, as personified brilliantly by the eerie, floating, corporeal demons.
The design of these floating demons is outstanding; from the way they are shown in the distance to seeing their chilling design up close, all adds up to a suitably chilling menace. Also chilling is how the supporting characters who the protagonists encounter are in some way or form demons underneath; in the penultimate story where a man tries to save his long lost sister, we see demons in human form, and the results are unsettling, to say the least. There is some great cinematography throughout, with every single frame being unusual, precise and subtle, and the music harkens back to the classic scores from the John Carpenter era of horror.
Granted, this is not the kind of movie that will appeal to everyone’s tastes, as there will no doubt be some viewers left bored, confused or irritated by it, but there’s no denying that Southbound is an unsettling and chilling watch. It’s unique and unusual and will certainly strike certain horror crowds with an uneasy feeling of bewilderment and intrigue, and almost has the same unnerving vibe of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Not for everyone for sure, but worth a watch nonetheless.
SOUTHBOUND / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CHAD VILLELLA, MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN, KRISTINA PESIC, FABIANNE THERESE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW