Deliverance, Wrong Turn, House of 1000 Corpses... Southerners definitely have their own rules. There’s not a lot of comfort in Walter Hill’s uncompromising update of the old World War Two platoon movie: National Guardsmen (grizzled character actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward) hump through the Louisiana bayou, piss off the Cajun locals and end up fighting a rear guard action in hostile, unfamiliar territory.
The ’Nam allegory comes with signposts. The year is 1973, helicopters thud in the skies and the Cajuns play guerrilla war Viet Cong-style, gabbling in incomprehensible French while engaging a technologically superior foe. The weekend warriors are armed with M16s but have no ammo. Pisser. The Cajuns have shotguns, beartraps and dogs. Rice paddies give way to gnarled forests draped in Spanish moss, where GIs die just as pointlessly.
Channelling the spirit of Ford and Peckinpah, Hill lets violence erupt unexpectedly, crafting a taut action movie. Beneath it lurks a savagely cynical deconstruction of American masculinity in crisis, gung ho strut (“Voulez vous fuck you”) bleeding into emasculated panic as the soldiers’ knackers are caught in a Cajun pincer movement.
A trailer’s the only extra, proof that this consistently underrated movie remains unloved. Yet with US (and our own) boys still dying in distant lands, Southern Comfort retains a disturbing power: a warning against the macho rashness that goes hand in hand with military might.