Full of Cajun Spice
There are those who say that Walter Hill's "Southern Comfort" is an allegory for the Vietnam War, whilst Hill himself has said he doesn't believe it is. Now I am an uncomplicated bloke who actually grows tired off all those who seek to find hidden meaning in movies and so you can probably guess that I side with Hill on this one. Maybe to some they can see some sort of deeper context to "Southern Comfort" but what I get is a tense action thriller about a squad of National Guard who find themselves being hunted down by local Cajuns who pick them off one by one for encroaching on their territory.
Having just been transferred from Texas to Louisiana Hardin (Powers Boothe - Men of Honour) finds himself on training manoeuvres with the Louisiana National Guard in the Bayou. A mismatch of men they soon find themselves going from manoeuvres to battle when they steal canoes belonging to some local Cajuns and find themselves being fired upon. With little in live ammo and in the Cajun's own backyard not only do they find themselves having to fight for survival but their group fractures as some are more gung ho than others when it comes to doing battle with the locals.
"Southern Comfort" is really quite a straight forwards movie; it is a survival movie where a group of men find themselves being hunted. We may get the build up about being on National Guard training but when it comes down to it, it is purely a survival movie with them being hunted by the backwater Cajun folk. And as such it would not be wrong for me to say that there is a certain amount of predictability to things as they get picked off one by one be it shot or caught in trap.
But where "Southern Comfort" comes into its own is not in the trouble as they are picked off but in the atmosphere. We have the atmosphere from these men being hunted down and having very little in the form of effective weapons and as each person gets picked off their sense of desperation heightens. And then we get the tension between men as whilst some want to go Cajun hunting the others just want to get out, there are plenty of issues and infighting. But when you combine the two we have a movie which gets increasingly tenser right through to the end and without giving anything away when Hardin and his fellow guard Spencer reach a village the level of tension is phenomenal, better than any horror movie.
What really helps this all come together is partly great performances and the late Brion James is brilliant as the Cajun trapper which the men capture but it is also a diversity of characters. Hardin is full of mystery because he keeps on questioning what is going on making us doubt what is going on. Spencer is more level headed in control of what he does and it makes you wonder whether he knows something no one else does. But then you have loose cannons such as Stuckey and Reece which helps increase the level of tension between everyone. It makes all the interactions fascinating because of the diversity of characters.
What this all boils down to is that "Southern Comfort" is a survival movie but also an experience because of the electrifying atmosphere going on which when you think it can't get any tenser it finds another level. And trust me the final 20 minutes will have you on the edge of your seat thanks to director Walter Hill's mastery of creating incredibly intense scenes.