Southbound: Purgastories, by Ian Brill

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Horror anthology films have had a resurgence with VHS and The ABCs of Death. Southbound moves the resurgence forward by telling five short stories that coalesce, sharing the same desert locations and certain characters. The location is vital, for all stories take place on a stretch of desert highway that proves to be somewhere just beyond reality. The central characters live with some kind of guilt and sin, and this desert location may just be the world between the living and the dead.Let’s explore each story, chronologically:“The Way Out” directed by Radio Silence: The hellish setting becomes clear, as this story establishes the paranormal unreality with some clever looping and innovative monster designs. But the section is marred by some weak performances and an ending that doesn’t utilizes the “just desserts” concept as well as what precedes it. But with its unrelenting gravely road and run down motel/diner setting, it does a good job of telling the audience what they are in for.“Siren” directed by Roxanne Benjamin: The story of a three girls in a band, meeting a middle-aged couple after their van gets a flat tire. The Twilight Zone feel is in full effect here, as the couple and their friends reveal themselves to be sinister, and the girls have a dark secret. This section combines humor and intrigue, as well as wonderful characterization and chemistry between the three leads, with Fabianne Therese as a true stand out. Which is important as she is also in…“The Accident” directed by David Bruckner: Therese’s character carries over, albeit in a much different form (I shan’t say anything more, for those wary of spoilers). Mather Zickel is the star of this section and does a wonderful job, especially since the story requires to him to be quite isolated. This is the true standout of Southbound. The story is so focused, and the lead performance is so strong, that it has a vitality that truly makes it a joy to see with a crowd. It is by far the goriest entry in Southbound, and features the most ominous set.“Jailbreak” directed by Patrick Horvath: Another strong entry, this does the most with the “afterlife” concept of the film. A down ‘n’ dirty supernatural splatterfest, it has great attitude and style, as well as great performances from Matt Peters and Tipper Newton.“The Way In” directed by Radio Silence: As you may suspect, this story ties into the film’s opener. It’s a change of pace, being more of a home invasion story with no supernatural elements. It isn’t until it fills in some of the blanks of the first story does it fit the theme and feel of the rest of the film. The departure does not quite seem worth it, as the main story does not do anything novel or stylistic with any of the home invasion tropes. When the supernatural elements from “The Way Out” return, they are a welcome sight, as they take advantage of the film’s imaginative setting.Southbound is a return to more classic horror anthology films, like Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and the more recent Trick ‘r Treat. There is a built-in unevenness to these films, but most efforts are entertaining and “The Accident” and “Jailbreak” make the film worth seeing all on their own.

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