With the eighties came a lot of frustration about the Vietnam War and the hell that many people had to endure to fulfill the political goals of the US government. Walter Hill’s “Southern Comfort” isn’t precisely about the Vietnam war but it is a allegory for the Vietnam war right down to the very final scene. “Southern Comfort” is a startling and often surreal survival thriller, set amidst a seemingly serene Louisiana Outback during the Vietnam War. With the Louisiana National Guard stationed in the bayou, they’re set to take part in mandatory maneuvers.
Things don’t go as planned, though, when the squad that’s put together have an apparent tension that promises to make the day almost impossible to endure. Led by an all star cast of actors, “Southern Comfort” finds a troop of easily rattled and somewhat paranoid soldiers journeying in to the bayou and coming across a group of Cajun hunters. After getting lost in the woods, they steal a pair of canoes from the locals, and a sadistic prank on them sets off a chain of violent revenge that finds the soldiers fighting for survival. Out of their element, they try to find their way back to civilization, but that will prove incredibly difficult, as the locals have the knowledge of the wilderness that the military doesn’t.
Director Hill turns “Southern Comfort” in to a nightmare that spirals out of control faster than anyone really has the ability to comprehend. As the commanding officer of the troop, even Peter Coyote’s character has his work cut out for him when the chain of events descends in to complete violence. Hill teams up a slew of male archetypes, all of whom are over compensating and violent, and eventually begin to clash as they fight for their lives. The characters in Hill’s tale aren’t heroes or even protagonists, so much as they are individuals that fall prey to their own incompetence and gradually dig themselves deeper the more they’re entrenched in battle. Paranoia and machismo become a powerful combination among the characters that explodes in their faces.
Hill induces the surreal nightmare with many moments of sheer hysteria, including a knife fight in the middle of a mist, and a panicked fire fight. Hill handles the ensemble cast brilliantly with the collective of excellent character actors contributing to the atmosphere and story well. Folks like TK Carter, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward and the late great Powers Booth offer remarkable turns, and deliver nuanced glimpses of the effects of combat. Walter Hill’s “Southern Comfort” really is about the madness of war, and the sheer lunacy of unprepared soldiers going in to a foreign land and opening themselves up to be preyed upon. It’s a conscientious film, but also a riveting thriller until the very end.
The Blu-Ray and DVD Combo from Shout! Factory features a newly produced twenty seven minute documentary for the film. There are interviews with some of the cast members and writer David Glier as well as director Walter Hill, who appears via Skype. There’s a very interesting discussion about the film and the very heavily argued debate that it’s an allegory for the Vietnam war. Finally, there’s the original theatrical trailer and a still gallery.