Southern Comfort, 1981

When a group of National Guard numbskulls go on a weekend exercise in the rural bayou country, they anger the Cajun locals and are systematically hunted in an alien environment.

While The Warriors worked brilliantly as an urban chase thriller, the script could be cringe-worthy (“I’ll shove that bat up your a** and turn you into a popsicle…”, being the only good line), and the costume designer had clearly just raided Sly Stone’s wardrobe circa 1969 (right, below), Walter Hill showed a knack for creating a truly palpable sense of pace, which he further develops in Southern Comfort, with a better cast (that, for the most part, you actually care about) and a more tangible feeling of suspense.

In fact, he reworks the exact same plot of the previous film, that of a group going on the run after provoking a more sizeable antagonist, but changes the setting and general atmosphere, in this case being the calm bleakness of the marshy Bayou, accompanied by long-standing collaborator Ry Cooder’s haunting bottle-neck score. Often seen as a metaphor for Vietnam, due to its criticism of the gung-ho attitude and American cockiness, Hill has always asserted that this was not his intention: “We were very aware that people were going to see it as a metaphor for Vietnam. The day we had the cast read, before we went into the swamps, I told everybody, ‘People are going to say this is about Vietnam. They can say whatever they want, but I don’t want to hear another word about it.”‘ The point here, is that having a hostile, disrespectful attitude to the people that inhabit the land you are riskily treading, cannot be compatible with a lack of real ammunition and an insufficient intimacy of an alien surrounding. In other words, ‘don’t go firing blanks at people without assessing whether they can kill you.

This is definitely one of the best thrillers of its time, tightly directed and solidly acted. And it’s got Keith Carradine.

Goof: A distinct lack of Creedence Clearwater Revival in the soundtrack. ‘Born on the Bayou’, anybody?

9 Blank cartridges out of 10


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