It’s Twilight Zone eerie, as we embark on an anthology film of connected horror stories all happening on the Lost Highway.
Southbound, directed by Radio Silence, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, and Patrick Horvath. At the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA, February 12 and 13
By Gerald Peary
Southbound starts off as if it’s going to be fun, with a rowdy tongue-in-cheek voiceover obviously emulating Wolfman Jack, the midnight deejay of the George Lucas classic, American Graffiti. “We’re all on the same endless highway with no names and no exits,” the VO growls. “Fuck it! Keep with it,” as the camera comes on to two grim, bloody-faced young men in a car riding through the Southwest desert. Where precisely? Road signs are blank, emptied of their signage, towns have no names and deserted streets, and nobody can get their GPS to work. It’s Twilight Zone eerie, as we embark on an anthology film of connected horror stories all happening on the Lost Highway. The filmmakers are young, B-list indies, and so are the actors; and Southbound is a calling card for their collective talents.
Why are the two blokes all bloody? You have to wait until the end of the film to find out, as Story One loops around. But there’s some creepy looping also up front, as our paranoid protagonists keep frantically driving away but then are mysteriously sucked back to the same diner, Ray’s Motel Café. They should have known right away to stay away when The Night of the Living Dead is playing on the café’s TV. But before these guys can even think of apple pie and coffee, the café seems to be having an earthquake, though not noticed by the regulars. Our heroes ain’t seen nothin’ yet, because outside the café they are attacked from the air by a praying mantis-like critter. Why is not an issue. This giant critter just is.
Story Two concerns three generic babes, the leggy one in hot pants, who wake up with hangovers in Ray’s motel, tucked behind the weirdo diner. They drive off in their minivan which, surprise, breaks down, and an odd married couple coming by rescue them and invite them home. The gals are suspicious, though one makes a wise point: “I’d rather go with them than a bunch of rapey dudes.” Guess what? The couple are part of a witches coven, and two of the babes join in after they’ve eaten a devil’s brew meat stew and puked black stuff. The other is a veggie girl and also The Final Girl of horror movies, though this film (which is starting to drag) is not yet half way.
Story Three is very tedious. A guy in a car runs over the fleeing Final Girl and, ordered about on his Smart Phone by some peculiar folk at 9-1-1, he carries the still-breathing, almost-roadkill lady into his car. He races toward a town which has no citizenry and into a hospital which has neither patients nor staff. For what feels like fifteen minutes, the guy from the car becomes an amateur doctor operating on the Final Girl. This quarter hour is without tension because we don’t care a pinch if the Final Girl makes it or not. We know nothing about her at all. Or about anybody.
Story Four is something about a loony bearded man with a shotgun who has come to this bar in this town to rescue his sister. He’s been searching her out for thirteen obsessive years. His sister, a tattoo artist, doesn’t want to leave. So she feeds him to a bevy of living dead, who appear on the scene suddenly like the giant insect of Story One. As always with this film, there’s not an iota of explanation.
Story Five has the five minutes of Southbound which was actually scary, when a father, mother, and buxom blonde daughter are cornered in their motel room by three masked silent men in masks, one of whom is a rubberfaced grinning Clark Gable. Why this random attack? One of the attackers flashes his victim a photo of a young blonde girl. Oh, that’s the explanation. Of course. Now, time for the kill!
There’s 120 minutes of this lazy, unmotivated stuff. Southbound must have seemed a cool, hip, collaborative idea for fledgling filmmakers. But there’s not much payoff for an audience, and I can’t believe the young actors or directors have advanced their careers with this pointless throwaway.
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of nine books on cinema, writer-director of the documentaries For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Betty, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.