Jack (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin) is driving south along this desert highway with his buddy Mitch (Chad Villela) in the passenger seat, but they have both been seriously rattled by events of the previous night and wish to get as much distance between them and where they have come from as possible. But they should really get cleaned up, as they are spattered with blood from their encounter, so when they spot a diner up ahead Jack pulls in and they venture inside. After negotiating the slightly confrontational counter girl, they both visit the bathroom, but when Jack is in there an apparent earthquake that only he and Mitch can feel occurs, and something invisible grabs Jack...
So what was actually going on? You could wait until the very end of the movie to find out as this was one of those efforts where the ending was basically the beginning, yet even then you may be baffled as not much was explained in Southbound. It was one of those independent horror anthologies that had sprouted up during the twenty-tens, often the work of a selection of directors as was the case with this, though they were operating from a place of experience in the subgenre since they all had connections to previous instalments in things like V/H/S, one director, Roxanne Benjamin who helmed the second segment, being the producer on that series.
You could see the appeal, especially if you were a fan of what Amicus and its imitators did to British horror cinema back in the sixties and seventies, essentially giving the audience more bang for its buck by casting a bunch of recognisable faces in a selection of twist in the tale affairs which would with any luck leave them contented and eager to watch some more. What these twenty-first century versions did not have were the stars more often than not, so you were pretty much watching a cast you had never seen before acting out the shocks, which in their way could be just as effective since you could not in theory predict what would happen to them, good or bad.
Well, you didn't watch these things to see nice stuff happen, let's be honest, so if the appeal of seeing a famous performer behave in terrible ways or have someone behave terribly to them had that celebrity novelty, then the more anonymous variety had surprise on their side. There were in effect four stories here, though none of them precisely gathered suspense to reach a twist, more accurately it was witnessing weird shit going down, inflicted on some apparently ordinary folks who may or may not have "deserved" the experience. Certainly in the second part the all-girl band whose van breaks down in the middle of nowhere didn't deserve to be taken back to the house of their Good Samaritans and fed their special meat which precipitated a rather unfortunate consequence.
Not least because of what happened to lead into the third section (they were all connected, however loosely) where a driver who runs down a young woman on that same desert highway because he was being a moron and texting on his phone does the right thing and calls 911 for assistance. He is then guided to take her to an abandoned hospital and operate on her in increasingly disgusting ways in a manner reminiscent of a horror movie variation on the based in truth drama Compliance, which brought us to the fourth instalment where an armed man tries to rescue his long lost sister yet for reasons unexplained she is distinctly reluctant to go. Like all of these yarns, you had to be satisfied that you were not going to get all the answers as to what was actually going on, which crafted an interesting atmosphere of puzzling menace, and you either liked that or you didn't. One pleasing aspect was that each story was the right length for the amount of incident contained; too often these shorts can seem like dry runs for features, but that wasn't the case here in a not bad portmanteau that preferred enigma over overexplanation.