Southbound is an anthology of five loosely-related horror stories, each from different directors and writing teams. Some of the films have a bit of a Twilight Zone feel to them. The mood is set with a deep melodious radio voice speaking to “all you lost souls, all you sinners, racing down that long road to redemption, but heading into that pit of darkness ahead.” The stories do all involve being on that highway in some way. We don’t so much get the feeling that this is a highway to Hell as much as it is, for those involved, the experience of Hell.
Some of the stories involve the supernatural, but others are tied to human nature and the fear that we will have to pay for the mistakes we have made in life. There is a sense of karma that plays out in these stories—people seem to be getting what they deserve, or at least that they are paying for some misdeeds in their past. While each story is standalone, there is a connection made to the one before it so that it seems to be an ongoing story as it moves through the night. The film is bookended by a pair of stories that allows the entire film to circle back around on itself.
This is not so much about blood or gore as it is atmospheric. There are lots of creepy vibes that exude from even the minor characters. But in most of the stories, there is also a sense that we can identify with the fears of the protagonists. They often must deal with facing the guilt of something they have done. For some, that guilt may destroy them; for others, facing that guilt may lead to a touch of redemption.
That road to destruction or redemption is very much like many people think of the spiritual life. The Hindu/Buddhist concept of karma seems to have a place in our visceral worldview (especially in horror film worldviews), even if our theology doesn’t really recognize that concept. Even concepts of Hell in Christian thought (cf., Dante) seem to be built around fitting punishment for sins. In Southbound those punishments seem to be inevitable. But they may or may not lead to either repentance or forgiveness. It is not that there is no grace on this desolate road, but that grace is hard to find. I think that is why I have such a hard time appreciating this genre: there is a lack of Good News that we are not bound to damnation without an escape.