Re-appreciation Society: Southern Comfort

Considered by many to be a thematic sequel to Deliverance, 1981′sSouthern Comfort drives down the same lonely road and comes a cropper of the locals.  Southern Comfort is a superb, taut thriller depicting a group of National Guardsmen trying to negotiate their way out of a swamp while being picked off one by one by unseen Cajun enemies – it could be regarded as a cross between Deliverance and Ten Little Indians.

Above all else however, Southern Comfort is an outstanding ensemble piece with a wonderfully strong cast.

National Guardsman Boone (Powers Boothe) arrives in the middle of the rural Bayou to join up with his new squad for a weekend of manoeuvres. Boone has recently transferred in from the Texas National Guard and is immediately unimpressed with the behaviour and arrogance of his new squad. A married man, he wants no part of a date with prostitutes that PFC Spencer (Keith Carradine) has waiting for the men at the other end of their journey. It soon becomes evident to Boone, however, that Spencer is the only man in the squad with his head screwed on and they soon hit it off. The squad then move out and begin their manoeuvres through the dense swampland.

In the swamp, the patrol reach a river that is not on their map. Luckily for them, right by the river are some Cajun canoes, at a camp site. After some deliberation, the decide to “borrow” the canoes and leave a note for the Cajuns. While on the river, the squad notice that the Cajuns have arrived at the camp where they stole the canoes. One of the men decides that it would be hilariously funny to fire blanks from his M-60 machine gun at the Cajuns as a prank. The frightened Cajuns quickly fire back, killing the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Poole (Peter Coyote). The squad then make a run for it into the woods and thus begins their quest for survival and a way on to the main road. The squad have three main problems – they are lost, they only have a small amount of live rounds (as they are on a training exercise they mostly have blank rounds) and the Cajuns are seemingly one step ahead at every turn.

Writer/Director Walter Hill (48 HrsRed Heat, writer of Alien) is no stranger to this kind of story – one of his most famous previous films was the wonderful cult classic The Warriors – in which a gang must go from one side of New York to the other, through treacherous territory to reach their eventual salvation.

Southern Comfort is an outstanding example of  writing and pacing. In fact the pace seldom ever lets up. The squad only seem to ever stop to bury one of their number. It throws you straight into the mix and at no point does it feel flabby or over indulgent. In fact for a film that is set exclusively outside in wide open spaces it manages to accomplish the near impossible feat of feeling claustrophobic and boxed in. The fact that you never really see the enemy also gives the film a mildly creepy feel. You are fully aware that these men are being tracked and hunted, but you don’t know when the enemy will next strike and what traps or scare tactics they will leave for the men. There are many eerie tricks employed by the unseen Cajun menace for example at one point the men stagger into a clearing, only to find their fallen comrades, whom they had not long buried, strung up together on a tree.

The soundtrack by legendary guitarist/composer Ry Cooder is a masterpiece of creeping menace and laid back indolence and is a perfect marriage for the Cajun setting and  intense feeling of dread that plays out on screen. You will be humming it in your head each time you fire blanks at anyone and cause your squad to be hunted and killed.

The comparison to Deliverance has always seemed far too easy. While they both feature a couple of similar aspects,  the only film really that is really stands up as a spot on partner for this film is John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982. They both feature the same feelings of paranoia and isolation, and an all male cast and they both seem to revel in dispatching the characters all one by one before your eyes. There is also the fact that T.K. Carter plays basically the same part in Southern Comfort as he does in The Thing(sans the roller-skates, head band and copious amounts of weed).

The cast is faultless. Powers Boothe is perfect as Boone and offers a brooding intensity, and you cannot help but enjoy the genuine likeability and charisma of Keith Caradine as Spencer. Fred Ward (Tremors) is on top form as Reece, the psychopath within the squad and Les Lannom is perfect as the hapless Sgt. Casper who attempts to lead the squad after their sergeant is killed.  Bryon James (Blade Runner, 48 Hrs, Red Heat) keeps up his quota of being in every good film from the 1980s, as the squad’s Cajun prisoner.

If you go down to the woods today…make sure you hunt and trap Southern Comfort – or it may get you first.

Originally posted 2012-04-09 20:29:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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