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The Ending Of Southbound Explained

From "Trick or Treat" to "Creepshow" to "V/H/S," horror anthologies are among the most inventive examples of the genre. It's always fascinating to see such a wide array of diverse voices bring their talents to the forefront. Even better is when these talents can be tied together into a greater theme or idea. Such is the case with 2015's "Southbound." The movie features five short films that follow various individuals as they face their worst fears along a mysterious, desolate desert highway. Tying every segment together through its consistent visual style, tone, and pacing while still giving each a distinct feeling, "Southbound" is a crowning example of how to do a horror anthology right. 

Critics very much enjoyed the film, earning it an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. "A pervasive atmosphere of no-one-can-hear-you-scream is extreme in 'Southbound,'" wrote Soren Anderson of The Seattle Times. "The picture, a low-budget anthology of five mini horror stories, packs a punch."

As with any thought-provoking horror, "Southbound" doesn't serve its intentions on silver platter. Chock full of allusions and Easter eggs, it's thick with hidden meanings. All of its subtle (and not-so-subtle) aspects ultimately add to a grander whole. There's a lot to break down, so let's take a look at "Southbound" and its ending.

Racing down the road to redemption

To understand this film's ending, it's necessary to look at where it all starts. The first segment, entitled "The Way Out," begins as two blood-soaked individuals, Mitch (Chad Villella) and Jack (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin), are driving through a desert morning. Turns out, they're running from strange floating monsters that have been following them throughout the night. They stumble upon a mysterious highway and make a stop at a run-down gas station.

When they try driving away, however, they keep somehow returning to the gas station. Jack does his best to escape the endless loop, although Mitch believes they're better off if they just accept their fate. Jack is killed by one of the monsters and Mitch manages to make his way to a motel. There, he enters a room and encounters Catherine, his dead daughter. She calls out to him and he chases her around the room in another chaotic loop, unable to reach her. A maid places a "do not disturb" sign on his door, leaving him trapped.

It's all been foreshadowed by a radio broadcast from earlier in the segment: "For the lost lonely souls racing down the road to redemption, we're all on the same highway, one that is never-ending, tonight might be the night we might outrun our demons once and for all." Even without knowing exactly what these guys have done, we can tell through their blood-soaked expressions that they've been through a lot, with both literal and metaphorical demons refusing to let them rest. And this is only a taste of what's to come.

Demons of the past

Where the first segments only hints at the dark deeds our characters are running from, the second explores its protagonists with more depth. Entitled "Siren," this part introduces three girls who spent the previous night a few doors down from Mitch's motel room. After their van breaks down on the road, a sweet-looking couple stops by and offers the girls a place to stay for the night. Despite some hesitation, they agree to go. 

Upon arrival, Sadie (Fabianne Therese) senses that something isn't right. Everyone has an off-kilter feel and the family constantly brings up Sadie's friend, Alex (Karina Fontes), who died in a car accident. After her friends eat a mysterious meatloaf offered for dinner, they get inducted into a blood ritual and try going after Sadie. She encounters an apparition of Alex and runs out into the road, desperate for help.

From here, we can decipher a bit more as to what this desert demands from its victims. Sadie is being forced to confront her past. On top of that, we also get a better understanding of the desert's inhabitants. At the cost of being overtaken by the darkness that plagues the land, they are granted some eerie knowledge of everyone who enters the desert.

The one that got away (and the one who chose to stay)

The next two segments perfectly contrast one another. The first, "The Accident," sees Lucas (Mather Zickel) attempt to save Sadie's life in an empty hospital after hitting her with his car. With the instruction of two unseen EMTs via phone, he does his best to save her, but fails. Accepting that he is responsible for her death, he's able to leave the desert unharmed. The next segment, "Jailbreak," sees Danny (David Yow) attempt to rescue his long-lost sister Jesse (Tipper Newton) from a secret demon hideout. He tries to drive off with her, much to her dismay. When she reveals that she killed their parents of her own freewill and doesn't intend to leave, Danny is then taken away by the other demons as Jesse drives off. 

These segments compliment each other as they explore the desert as a land of judgment. Lucas' carelessness leads to Sadie's death, but because he admits he was at fault and does everything in his power to save her, the desert has forgiven him. Jesse, too, has admitted to her sins, but rather than seeking forgiveness, she seeks acceptance into this way of life. And Danny, trying to go against that order, is punished, even if what he was trying to do was heroic. There's no fighting what the desert chooses for those who enter it — you can only face your problems head on and choose how to move forward.

End of the line

The last section, entitled "The Way In," ties everything together with a thought-provoking bow. A family staying at a vacation house in the desert is interrupted by a group of masked intruders who break and attack the father and mother (Gerald Downey and Kait Beahan). Their daughter, Jem (Hassie Harrison), is given the option to escape, which she initially takes. After killing the mother, the intruders show the father a photo of Catherine from the film's first segment. We learn that the masked intruders are Mitch and Jack, who are here for revenge as it seems the father has something to do with Catherine's death. Jem comes back and tries to fight them, but is killed. The two start to feel guilt over what they've done, and leave. They're stalked by the floating monsters as they drive into the morning, ending where the movie started.

Not only do we know of Mitch and Jack's dirty deeds, but knowing how the film's events subtly link, it turns it into a massive, never-ending loop. The film foreshadows this in the beginning with their gas station visit. The highway's ambiguous nature makes it feel like another realm. Could it be a kind of purgatory? Are its inhabitants deities with the power to determine the fates of those who enter? Each story showcases the seedy pasts of its subjects and explores how they choose to atone for their mistakes. Everyone is on the same road to redemption, and only they can choose how to ride it.