Set amidst the Louisiana bayous, Southern Comfort is an allegory to fighting men, broken by the mental necessities of war and the lunacy of man. A band of National Guardsmen conducting a routine military exercise come under threat by a motley crew of backward Cajun settlers. After the forces boisterously pilfer a family’s set of canoes, both foreign huntsmen and their woodland territory seek savage retribution. Armed with a single pack of shells between nine vexed rednecks, the platoon plummet into a hellish swampland, seething with inhumane traps and pitfalls. The latent wonder of Southern Comfort lies in Hill’s dangerously direction and a script that spits and curses like a troop of undomesticated delinquents.
Co-written by Hill’s producer, Dave Giler, the duo plunge a relatively unknown cast – Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, to name a few – in exceedingly physical and mental conditions, demolishing their masculinity and feeding upon their fear of the unknown.Suggestive nods to Vietnam and the dismantling of human self control are a constant footer as the players flee from the overgrowth. And, beyond the calculated social commentary is an analysis of man’s vigour for destruction and nature’s overriding power to extinguish life. Accompanied by a morosely fitting score by slide guitarist Ry Cooder, the film resonates with an undeniable hillbilly twang.
The unadulterated racial and sexist jibes may be hard to swallow for some, yet the repugnance of the bloodstained narrative is almost bewitching. Obvious comparisons to John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) are also unavoidable. But it’s the reverence of both films that have permitted the director’s modern audiences to ignore their latter day sins (Boorman’s fantastic yet utterly ridiculous 1974 effort Zardoz; Hill’s 1988 buddy cop bore Red Heat). Without both Deliverance and Southern Comfort, there would be no barbarism in film; a travesty to any true cinephile.