It would always entice my interest and curiosity when ever I heard the name mentioned, but for years it just lingered on my mental list of films to see. Due to a limited release on home media it was always hard to come by. However last night I finally had the means to see it, so without hesitation I indulged in my first viewing of Southern Comfort.
Set in 1973 a squad of National Guard soldiers on weekend exercise in an isolated Louisiana swamp, suddenly find themselves thrust into a life and death situation when they carelessly anger local Cajuns hunters. Now I won’t deny that there are some obvious similarities to Deliverance, but in reality this survival thriller is a very different film. While Deliverance echoed themes of man’s desecration of the American wilderness, in addition to leaving a profound impact on it’s viewers, Southern Comfort simply exists to entertain and in some instances frighten more than anything else; as a result achieving cult during the years since it’s 1981 release. Much to the dismay of the film’s director Walter Hill, Southern Comfort can be viewed as mirror to the Vietnam War as many parallels are evident throughout. This serves as an interesting discussion point amongst viewers, but most of the film’s enjoyment comes from the characters, who range from inept to downright incompetent individuals. Their antics are often laughable and puzzling, which doesn’t really make them very sympathetic when their hostile predicament begins. It’s only when our two lead protagonists named Spencer and Hardin (Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe) come into their own that the film begins to excel; followed by an increased scene of fear and paranoia as the situation becomes increasingly dire. The location is undoubtedly a key element to the film’s desired effect. The looming presence of the countless cypress trees, a staple of the seemingly endless and eerie landscape both hinders our heroes while hiding their unseen perusers; which is an absolute credit to cinematographer Andrew Laszlo. While performances from the cast are relatively mixed with the exception of Carradine and Boothe, Southern Comfort delivers some genuinely intense and terrifying moments. Read into it what you will regarding it’s unintentional social commentary, but don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the ride of this fine example early 80s cinematic escapism.
(1981, dir: Walter Hill)