I don't believe I've done a review of a thoroughbred horror film here yet, even though it is one of the genres that I very much enjoy. For that reason, let's start with a delightfully surreal recent addition to the indie-horror genre: Southbound.
Along with It Follows and The Guest, Southbound joins the ranks of the contemporary craze for late seventies horror classics and most notably the work of John Carpenter. This link becomes especially clear in the use of music, think mainly along the lines of the hypnotic and dreamlike score of a film like Halloween, re-created with vintage synthesizers. It gives these films a joyful nostalgia, something undoubtedly ironic, yet thoroughly respectful in relation to its forefathers. It is clear that we're dealing with a generation that grew up with these masterpieces of glorious horror. Southbound is no exception and its group of directors, the film is a horror anthology of sorts, all fit into this mould.
When compared with the earlier V/H/S trilogy, created by many of the same directors, we see the same connection to horror nostalgia, in this case to the medium that early eighties horror films would mostly be seen on: a tattered copy of VHS tape rented from the local video store. Although certainly enjoyable, what the V/H/S trilogy sorely missed was a coherent atmosphere, understandably caused by the involvement of so many creative voices. Southbound, however, does not have this problem as much and this seems mainly due to its use of music as a binding factor. Throughout the film we continuously return to the setting of the car and its inseparable car radio, forever playing the same radio station with its recognisable jockey, sporting a gruff, worn and southern-accented voice, not unlike Reservoir Dogs' K-Billy super sounds of the seventies. This evokes the idea, which is echoed in the narrative, that the characters are forever trapped in the same unknown area somewhere in the desert along the highway going south, a place that must be some version of hell.
It is this set-up of having landed in a parallel universe that reminded me very much of The Twilight Zone series. By realising at the start that something is very off, we cannot help but view all these supposedly mundane settings with an ironically bemused grin on our faces, such as the dinner party hosted by two faintly fifties looking couples and the inbred-looking identical twins, slurping soup at the same time. Or when the two men covered in blood, for unknown reasons, enter a dust-covered diner by the side of the road, while the gum-chewing attendant in mint-green dress shouts at them: "the sign says customers only!" It is this very American setting that speaks to our childhood and the times we spent in front of small grainy screens revelling at the products of devious minds. It makes Southbound into a very successful film, which unlike the recent work of Quentin Tarantino doesn't make its nostalgic referentiality forced or joyless. Instead, we are treated to hilarious scenes where no gore is spared that still maintain their inherent surreal quality, in this way creating the much needed layering that makes the film into more than just a visually pleasing copy of seventies cinema. Sure, the film is trashy and sleazy, but no one can deny the sheer delight provided by the memory of our secret video-nasty childhood combined with genuine hypnagogic madness.