The independent horror film Southbound is one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever seen and perhaps portends a new direction in screenwriting and filmmaking. Shot in the California desert two hours east of LA, the 90 minute film is a mixture of four different stories that coalesce to become one grand story at the end. The director and writer Roxanne Benjamin follows up on her earlier indie success with the film VHS.
The technique of interweaving various stories in segments offers up a great puzzle to the viewer. Things don’t move forward in an exactly linear way in the film and the audience is constantly attempting to see where pieces of the film might fit into the whole. Yet the whole is never revealed like it is within the standard Hollywood three act genre. It’s all the same in so many ways whether one uses Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat method or Robert McKee or John Truby or almost all the screenwriting gurus out there. The screenplay is tells one story.
But in the method employed by Benjamin, the screenplay tells four separate stories linked together at the end. Isn’t this the way things happen most of the time in real life? Juxtaposition of things we go through on a daily basis are always separate and unrelated at first but later are seen in a grand pattern.
The film is full of spectacular special effects. Yet the greatest special effect of all is that Roxanne Benjamin is pulling off a new genre of screenwriting that is so young that it yet has a real name for it. Segments of a story given to the audience without the type of explanation screenwriters are supposed to supply to their audience to help them understand their story. Here, though, Benjamin is merciless towards helping the audience understand the film and simply tosses pieces of the story at them.
All of this could end up in a boring mess if not for the brilliance of Benjamin. The parts are brilliant and directed by the leading directors and cinematographers (various ensemble cast and crews) in the independent film area today. Somewhat like a John Cassavetes ensemble film where actors come together. But here, a mixture of actors, directors, writers and others who are at the top of the independent film community. Certainly at the top of the indie horror film community today. An important community where truly new screenwriters (like Benjamin) are emerging from as well as new directors and actors.