Dir: Walter Hill, 1981
An original work, or shamelessly inspired rip-off of Deliverance?
Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort is a bit of both, really, but also neither. It’s a rather confusing mesh of ideas and inspirations.
Set in 1973, the Louisiana National Guard anger the Cajun inhabitants. In turn, the squad become the hunted as they have to survive the murderous locals.
The similarities between this and John Boorman’s 1972 classic, are striking and blatant.
Hill’s movie, is set a mere year after Deliverance but, whereas the earlier film had a bunch of psychotic inbreds terrorising four innocent men, Southern Comfort puts the blame, squarely, on the shoulders of the guards’ arrogance.
Hill’s film, isn’t entirely sure who’s side it’s on. Are we meant to root for the soldiers, as their team is getting bumped off one by one? Or are we expected to cheer the locals, who were minding their own business, had canoes stolen by the guard and then opened fire on, with blanks?
But, they’re murderers, so surely we’re meant to be in it for the guards? Then again, it’s the guards ignorance and feeling of superiority that got them into this mess.
There is no clear definition of the heroes and the villains. It’s logical to assume, that that is what Hill was going for; they’re as bad as each other.
In theory, it works. We are meant to forego the usual constraints of good and evil, right and wrong, and just go along for the ride of action and suspense.
However, not knowing who to root for creates a clash that hampers the film, as you spend too much time wondering who’s side you’re on.
Moral ambiguities aside, Southern Comfort is a solid action thriller, offering plenty of suspense and a feeling of dread.
Director Hill, decides against showing such graphic violence, instead choosing to depict the terror that the men suffer, by simple suggestion.
As sacrilege as this may be, Southern Comfort is the better of the two survival films. Deliverance is rather slow and long winded, but this is more action packed, creating a sense of excitement.