Follow TV Tropes


Film / Southern Comfort

Go To

A 1981 survival thriller film directed by Walter Hill, starring Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward, Brion James, and Peter Coyote.

In Deep South, a National Guard exercise is being held in the Louisiana bayou, and a squad of nine men are sent on a patrol. During the patrol, a misunderstanding between the Guardsmen and a team of local Cajun hunters sparks a deadly chase across the wetlands.

This film has examples of:

  • The '70s: The opening title card states that the film is set in 1973.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Did Bowden kill himself, or did the Cajun trapper do it?
  • Ambiguously Evil: The one-armed Cajun trapper the soldiers take captive. It's constantly in question as to whether he's one of the guys hunting them or just some poor schmuck they took captive on a fit of paranoia, especially since he can only speak French. It turns out he was in on it and he can speak English, but he helps the last two survivors escape. But he also killed Bowden. Maybe.
  • Armies Are Evil: Downplayed, but the National Guard here are badly disciplined and steal civilian boats just to get to a rendezvous with some whores.
  • Asshole Victim: Reece and Stuckey. Simms is a downplayed example, as his last moments were pitiful and the only Kick the Dog move was hitting the one-armed Cajun in the face for suspecting him to be one of the hunters.
  • Attack Animal: The hunters unleash their attack dogs on the Guardsmen.
  • Ax-Crazy: Reece and Bowden, the latter to a more subtle degree.
  • Bayonet Ya: One of the Cajun hunters is on the receiving end.
  • Bear Trap: The hunters hounding the squad leave seven obviously placed bear traps on the trail of the remaining eight members, signaling that one of them is going to die soon. Sure enough, after they trip these obvious traps a better-concealed one kills Cribbs
    Reece: Just like a steel pussy.
    Cribbs: Hell, man, what kind of women you've been hanging out with?
  • Booby Trap: As the squad try to find their way back to civilization, Cribbs ends up launching a spike trap set by the hunters and gets impaled.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Sgt. Poole is killed this way.
  • The Cavalry: In the end, the survivors are rescued by the National Guard arriving in a jeep and helicopter. Strangely, their arrival is played ominously, as they arrive in slow motion while the survivors regard them dubiously.
  • Deadly Prank: Stuckey firing his blanks-filled machinegun at the hunters whose boats the squad borrowed is the catalyst to the manhunt across the bayou.
  • Deep South: The Louisiana bayou, where some people might not even speak English.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bowden. Maybe.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Subverted; Casper is strict and lashes out once when Spencer questions him, but that's clearly because he's breaking under the pressure of assuming Poole's command under such dire circumstances.
  • Dwindling Party: The members of the squad get killed off one by one as they are being hunted, with only Hardin and Spencer surviving the ordeal.
  • Grave Robbing: When the squad is down to six men, the hunters mess with them by digging up their buried comrades and tie them to a tree that's on their path.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The soldiers are badly disciplined and decide to steal boats so they can sneak off to a brothel while on duty. The hunters employ sadistic psychological tactics and do their best to kill the soldiers, but the Guardsmen robbed and shot at them first (with blanks, but they had no way of knowing that).
  • Groin Attack: When one of the hunters has Hardin at gunpoint, Spencer provides enough distraction for Hardin to stick his knife on the guy's groin.
  • Hate Sink: Stuckey, for being an irresponsible redneck who was the cause of his platoon's conflict with the Cajun hunters and his friend Reece, for being an aggressive and Ax-Crazy hunter himself.
  • Heroic BSoD: Bowden, who undergo Sanity Slippage until he became catatonic, and Simms, who becomes increasingly overwhelmed with fear.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: A variant from a bit further south, though the hunters aren't monsters, just territorial homesteaders under the misapprehension that they've been robbed, shot at, and had a friend abducted.
  • Jerkass: Stuckey and his friend Reece.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Cribbs.
  • It's Personal: Bowden takes the death of Sgt. Poole harder than the others since they were friends, and becomes unhinged because of it.
  • Killed Offscreen: Played with. One of the pursuing Cajun hunters is shot, and his body falls out of sight behind a tree.
  • Knife Fight: Hardin challenges Reece to a knife fight over Reece's mistreatment of the trapper prisoner. Hardin ends up killing Reece, and the trapper runs away.
  • Language Fluency Denial: The squad's trapper prisoner only speaks and responds to French. After he breaks free, he reveals that he can speak English.
  • Molotov Cocktail: After the squad captures the trapper, suspecting that he's in league with the hunters chasing them, Bowden decides burn his cabin down with a molotov cocktail. Since the building had a box full of dynamite inside, it blows up.
  • The Neidermeyer: Sgt. Casper, due to his inexperience and treating his commanding position like being an Obstructive Bureaucrat. Reece and Stuckey also count, due to the former being the aggressive Wild Card and the latter being the undisciplined and flippant member of the platoon.
  • Never My Fault: Stuckey is The Millstone for firing blanks at the hunters that leads to Poole's death and his platoon being stalked, but he is reluctant to take responsibility for his mistake. Initially he blames Bowden for panicking and tipping the canoes that cause the loss of their gear, tries to excuse his action as just pulling a prank, and when he confides to Reece if he thinks it's his fault, Reece reassures him it is not, encouraging him to border on this trope.
  • Poisonous Captive: The Guardsmen capture a one-armed local Cajun hunter and trapper, whom they suspect of being one the Cajuns who are threatening them. They attempt to talk to him but he only responds to French. Nevertheless, his mere presence is enough to poison the group.
  • Sanity Slippage: Bowden starts to lose his mind, becoming paranoid and suffering a bad case of Heroic BSoD. By the end, he’s catatonic.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Stuckey meets his demise in sinking quicksand when he chases after the helicopter sent looking for the missing squad.
  • Mildly Military: The Louisiana National Guard is portrayed as having an extremely lackadaisical approach to discipline, like when Stuckey pranks a fellow soldier by shooting blanks at him, not to mention the squad deciding that stealing boats to sneak off to a brothel is acceptable behavior. At least Hardin, who's a recent transfer from Texas, reacts with the appropriate bemusement.
  • Ragin' Cajun: The men chasing after the Guardsmen are Cajun hunters from the swampland.
  • The Savage South: Full of corrupt soldiers and very territorial swamp-dwelling Cajuns.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The men goes through this as they are tormented by the hunters, especially Bowden, who eventually sank into catatonia and Simms ("NO MORE! NO MORE!").
  • Sociopathic Soldier: The aggressive Reece and the vengeful Bowden would both count.
  • Token Good Teammate: Hardin is the most morally grounded and reasonable of the squad, though he does little to steer them in the right direction.
    • Spencer sort of qualifies as well. Even though he is flippant about soldiering and was willing to steal the canoes, he at least displays cool reassurance for his shaken squadmates (especially in the face of Casper's incompetence), doesn't mistreat their prisoner, and tries to use his street smarts constructively.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Stuckey, who thinks shooting blanks at civilians is an amusing game. His buddy Reece is the most violent towards the prisoner. Both of them made the suggestion to steal the boat in the first place.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Stuckey, who has the bright idea of frightening visibly armed locals by firing at them.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): The first to die is Poole, the only soldier with any combat experience.