10 July 2016

It is always cool to see movies based around locations you are familiar with. The Joshua trees, recognizable cafes, and dry lake beds of the Mojave Desert are landmarks I commonly drive thorough, owing to my constant moves from northern to southern California. On more than a couple occasions have I thought to myself: man this place would make for a great horror film. Southbound, if nothing else, lends a creepy-factor to the Mojave desert which it deserves. For it is true, there are spots within this desert where highways traverse for hundreds of miles without so much as a town. And life out here, to put politely, is different. It is not (too much of) a stretch to associate the people out here as belonging to cults, having mental illness, or even being monstrous. It is an isolated life to live within the Mojave desert, and Southbound portrays this existence quite well. Also terrifying is the fact that cell service is quite limited out here, and hospitals are few and far between. Southbound runs with these facts, as well. So, when the familiar desert highway of Route 66 came rushing to me on screen, I was excited. 

Southbound is a horror anthology with five "interconnected" stories. The flick does not waste time getting up to speed. Immediately the audience is exposed to hovering, demonic monsters that haunt two men on their drive. This initial story gives way to three women, and their mini-story takes off right after. Every anthology is quite creepy and the scare factor by no means diminishes throughout the length of the film. This is quite hard to accomplish as far as anthologies go. I would caution people against watching Southbound for its interconnectedness, however. The stories seem to only be connected because main characters are in proximity with another during transition scenes, and the horrors which the characters experience have little to no relation to the horrors from previous sections. This is good for the diversity in fear of the film, but the stories are loosely connected to each other, if at all.  

Southbound also gives very little insight into the reasons or manner by which events occur. Throughout the film, fantastical - impossible - events occur. During the stories I was begging for answers, thinking the explanations would add to the substance and horror of the flick. But on very few occasions does the film give insight into why things are happening the way they are. The film is scary, but it is also very confusing and much is left to the imagination. Some viewers enjoy this type of filmmaking, I do not.

What Southbound does very well is not falling into the trap of constant jump scares. At many scenes I was thinking to myself, here comes a jump scene - no jump scene came. In fact, I would not be surprised if the director told the crew to include no jump scenes. There are a few, but given the amount of opportunities the filmmakers had, it is obvious there was a focus on limiting the amount of jump scares. Kudos to the filmmakers - they build dread, rather than force it, within Southbound. 

The dread in this film is real. Whether it comes from monsters, whether it comes from people, whether it comes from psychological roots, this film will scare you. The film will make you feel uneasy, and at times cringe - in a good way. Many concepts are indeed highly scary and fulfilling, despite a lack of explanation. This flick fits very nicely into the horror anthology genre. For me personally, it brought to life the horror that is driving through the desolate, lonely highways of the Mojave desert, with only a radio station to keep you company.  

About the Author

Toby Qualls