Posted by Joel Copling on February 10, 2016

Generally speaking, the success or failure of an anthology of short films is directly proportional to how many of them are successful at conveying ideas in a short amount of time and to do what degree they might strengthen the ones with which they have been, sometimes seamlessly and at other times haphazardly, packaged. "Southbound," then, is a pretty good anthology movie entirely because of the short films located in the middle of the experiment and not the ones that bookend the project. There are five in all, meaning that the three that work help the overall project squeak by on their merits and the two that do not remain problematic in spite of good intentions.

That first vignette, "The Way In" (written by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and directed by the filmmaking team known as Radio Silence, consisting of Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella), positions a pair of bloodied, frantic individuals (played by Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella) against the strange internal workings of a small town alongside the highway (The title refers to the direction in which they are moving within the story and we over the course of all five). But the wooden performances by all involved betray a lot of the intrigue of this pair encountering the same events over again and unable to escape what becomes a kind of loop.

Better is the second segment, "Siren" (written by Susan Burke and director Roxanne Benjamin), in which a respite for an all-girl rock band (whose members are played by Fabianne Therese, Hannah Marks, and Nathalie Love) arrives in the form of a sweet couple (played by Burke and Davey Johnson) who invites them to their home. The tension mounts upon the deliverance of an odd prayer and a disgusting meal for dinner, and while the ultimate revelation isn't all that surprising, Benjamin manages it well. It also bleeds seamlessly into the third and best short, "The Accident" (written and directed by David Bruckner), in which a man (played by Mather Zickel) is overcome with guilt when he hits a woman with his car and must, with the direction of medical personnel over the phone, rectify his mistake. The tension is overwhelming, the violence is immediate and urgent, and the payoff is both demented and hopeless.

Also boasting quite a satisfyingly demented payoff mostly built out of suggestion is the fourth installment, "Jailbreak" (written by Dallas Hallam and director Patrick Horvath), which uses a grateful smattering of patience in its study of the worst kind of karma: A raggedy man (played by David Yow), armed with a shotgun, bursts into a bar in search of a sister (played by Tipper Newton) who disappeared more than ten years earlier, only to discover that this probably wasn't the best idea. It leaves a lot to the imagination, but in a way that doesn't cheat. That's more than I can say for Radio Silence's other story, "The Way Out," which offers an exit for the anthology as underwhelming as its entrance: A family (played by Gerald Downey, Kate Beahan, and Hassie Harrison) is terrorized in their home by masked, silent attackers. The connection wraps around to the beginning in way that enters the whole shebang in a similarly endless loop, but the connection makes little sense in the long run.

Still, "Southbound" is an intriguing experiment in repeated attempts at compact stories of controlled chaos with varying degrees of success and failure. If nothing else, it commands attention as a creepy horror effort (not something to be taken lightly in the current climate of a genre that seems to be repeating itself to often in the mainstream and not garnering enough attention at the fringes of the label). Much of it lies on the strength of its committee of filmmakers, each of whom (even the Radio Silence team amid the less impactful vignettes) offers a genuine touch of authorship to unique material. It might be the case of good segments bolstering the ones that don't work as well, but the effort is clearly there exactly when and where it counts.

Film Information

Kate Beahan (Cait), Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Jack), Susan Burke (Betty), Gerald Downey (Daryl), Dana Gould (Raymond Kensington), Hassie Harrison (Jem), Davey Johnson (Dale), Nathalie Love (Kim), Hannah Marks (Ava), Tipper Newton (Jesse), Maria Olsen (Sandy), Matt Peters (Al), David Yow (Danny), Anessa Ramsey (Bunny Kensington/Phone Operator), Zoe Cooper (Dispatch), Karla Droege (EMT), Larry Fessenden (The D.J.).

An anthology of short films directed by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, and Radio Silence and written by Benjamin, Bruckner, Horvath, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Susan Burke, and Dallas Hallam.

No MPAA rating.

86 minutes.

Released in select cities on February 5, 2016.