Film Review

Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort: A Review by Nate Hill

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Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort is the bees knees when it comes to backwoods survival thrillers. It’s frightening, elemental, and relentless in pace, inciting primal fear in the viewer who finds themselves terrified of these events ever happening to them. It’s a very overlooked film, with most of the kudos within this genre going to John Boorman’s Deliverance. This one is way better, at least for me. The immediacy of the protagonist’s situation, the hypnotic atmosphere of both score and cinematography working together for something really special. In rural Louisiana, a platoon of American soldiers prepares to embark into the tangled wilderness of the nearby bayou, attempting a routine training mission. Powers Boothe is awesome as Cpl. Charles Hardin, a well educated man who silently resents the roughnecks and dimwitted dead enders in his regiment. He’s joined by Spencer (a cavalier Keith Carradine), and a whole host of others as well. Now, the Bayou is home to the reclusive and eccentric Cajun people, who apparantly will keep to themselves if you do the same. But try telling that to a troupe of childish, immature GI’s packing heavy artillery that’s beyond both their pay grade and IQ. After one lugnut plays a nasty prank on a group of Cajun fisherman, they take it slightly personally. Before you can say crawfish, they promptly murder the commanding officer (Peter Coyote) and set a series of deadly traps and snares for the soldiers, out to send every last one of them to a swampy grave. It’s a beautiful backwoods nightmare, and Hill tells the story exceptionally, aided by a twangy, brilliant score from his go to composer Ry Cooder. Boothe and Carradine are shoe ins to hold off their pursuers, while the rest of them soon fall prey, in elaborate and gruesome ways. Fred Ward is badass as a fellow soldier who turns homicidal, and has a wicked knife fight with Boothe that ramps up the adrenaline and then some. The late Brion James makes quite the impression as a Cajun who they briefly capture, after which he eerily warns them of the hell that’s coming from his compadres. The locations feel authentic, damp and waterlogged as hell, making you feel every squelchy step these poor bastards take into the Bayou and closer to their end. Near the end of the film we are treated to some authentic live Cajun music (some of my favourite kind) from Dewey Balfa, a gorgeous interlude and showcase of Hill’s desire to make the auditory atmosphere of his films as heightened and immersive as possible. An unheralded classic.

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