As one of my favorite non horror directors I was extremely happy when I heard Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort was being released on Blu-Ray. Not only is it an action thriller (therefore justifiably in the remit of this wonderful site) it is also one of the only films of his that I hadn’t seen.
The man responsible for the wonderful Warriors takes the audience once again on a story of survival, where a pack of men are hunted like animals, revealing their true natures in a bid to escape to their freedom.
Focusing on a bunch of sexist, racist, macho idiots who make up the Louisiana Army National Guard, the films sees the nine fake soldiers going on maneuvers into the depths of the bayou where something terrible awaits them.
After stealing some Cajuns boats, infuriating them in the process, what was at first a silly game turns deadly serious as the unhappy hicks kill one of the army buddies number.
Plunged into chaos and disarray the rest of the wannabe warriors squabble and fight amongst themselves until they realise that they’re being stalked and hunted like the disemboweled animals they found strung up in the Cajuns camp.
Set in 1973 Walter Hill, who also helped write the film, crafts a peace time war movie and deliberately makes the characters as unlikable as possible throwing them into a life or death situation where issues such as morality, duty, right and wrong are constantly challenged by the men as they fight to survive.
The story and script are very vague in places, such as why the Cajuns are after them and whether they are responsible for all the mens deaths. This is deliberately done to stop a clear sense of ‘heroes and villains’ and further muddy our loyalties to the soldiers, letting us view the battle on a more primal and emotional level.
The other character in the film is the bayou itself. It seems alive at times with noises and animals and traps and trials laid out in a labyrinthine, almost primordial environment where the men never seem to know exactly where they are going.
Bear traps, wooden spikes and more await them around every corner with the possibility of the Cajuns that are hunting them appearing at any time, making the film a tense and claustrophobic affair from start to finish.
Much like many other horror war films such as the much more supernatural (but equally excellent) The Squad, Southern Comfort is less about the horror the men face and more about the horror within them, and their capacity to forsake their humanity at all costs to survive. The all male cast including Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward and Alan Autry do an excellent job conveying the pain and desperation of the situation, as do the rest of the cast.
A high quality, character driven action thriller that works on your nerves and your mind, Southern Comfort proves that horror can be found in many scenarios and this it believes is because the true horror is inside us all.