out perform // outlast // out work
(R. 87 minutes. Premiered at Bare Bones International Film and Music Festival, Muskogee, OK)
“Newcomers”: a term that seldom has a great effect on film audiences, and Southern Comfort is full of them. The general public tends to be narrow minded and selective on which films they invest their time into. Thousands of independent films fall into obscurity every year in the US alone, time and energy spent that can never be returned. For the past two years, I have watched as feature after feature crashed and burned, never to again be seen in the land of living film. Film is a competitive business, and I admit that I was initially a bit skeptical as to the chances of Southern Comfort‘s success. With hardly any publicly accessible information on the film (a scant public facebook page with only a few screenshots, etc, a short, generic film description, and one trailor), I had only a vague idea of what I was about to walk into.
I was about to be floored.
In their first released feature film, Writer/Director Ryan Phillips and Cinematographer Chris Mammerelli teamed up to produce the film that I believe is going to take the independent film community by storm. Between Phillips’ understanding of independent film culture and Mammarelli’s meticulous eye for fresh details, Southern Comfort was an original delight. The film touches on experiences so undeniably human: the balance between reality and fiction, intercultural relationships, finding your roots, and fighting for what you believe in. One-dimensional characters grow increasingly complex as the film continues.
If there’s one piece of advice I would give to new viewers, it’s this: never doubt these film-makers. Throughout my experience with “Southern Comfort”, I found myself picking out details that had not previously been explained: a character dies that has not yet been mentioned, the main man shows up in overalls when he had previously been wearing a suit and tie, etc. Yet, every time I found myself yelling at the television “What the heck?! You can’t do that!”, the film returned to explain what they “had missed”. Southern Comfort is not told in a linear fashion. It begins in the future, flashes back to the past, and ends in the present. Open yourself to the fact that all things will be explained in time.
In a nutshell, Southern Comfort is the story of Spencer Hayes, a washed-up childhood actor who has not landed a role in several years. Dropped by his agent and frustrated with life, Hayes determines to get back into show business in a big way. He finds a role that he wants- a small-town Southern man. He practices in his room day after day, but it isn’t enough. Spencer Hayes decides that something has to change. On the advice of his only close friend, Hayes leaves Hollywood and travels to the small town of Franklin, South Carolina in order to try method acting: living like his character.
Franklin is not a town accustomed to visitors, and Spencer Hayes is certainly not accustomed to the Southern small-town way of life. Hayes struggles to conceal his identity through a hurricane of problems. His antics lead him into all sorts of unfortunate predicaments, including being run off the road by a monster truck, being humiliated in front of a class of high school students, and getting punched in the gut by the town preacher.
I felt connected with Spencer Hayes even from the beginning of the film. His heart is wrenched in a thousand ways as he learns the meaning of love and family. He is broken and healed, broken again and healed again, and grows from a delinquent, self-centered child into a mature, intelligent man. Brad Worch II put out a genuine performance that spoke to me.
Ryan Phillips’ personal experience in both Charleston, SC and Los Angeles is evident throughout the film. Clever cracks are made at Hollywoodites and Southerners alike in a way that true natives to both regions can understand. Glaring disparities in both cultures are put on display, while somehow remaining inoffensive. Hayes’ struggle between his desires as an actor and his longing to experience true connections with other people genuinely capture the turmoil of rising artists, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Southern Comfort was somewhat of an autobiography for both Phillips and several of the other actors (leads Lauren York and Brad Worch II both came from the Carolinas).
Visually, Southern Comfort was a superior film for the size of it’s budget. Chris Mammerelli kept every scene both beautiful and fresh, utilizing dozens of different angles and approaches. I laughed to myself at several shots imagining what he must have had to do to achieve them. The lush, green cornfields and dusky midnight beach were welcome sights after the monotonous office scenes and classrooms of so many similarly budgeted indies.
For all of it’s amazing qualities, I would not recommend this movie to families with young children. Raw, harsh language is present throughout. Comparatively, it is not overly sexual but one scene does show the lead actress in skimpy lingerie and Hayes full rear as his towel drops. Violence is limited to a few heavy punches into Hayes by various characters, and one very psychotic interviewer.
Overall, I give this film an 8/10. In the words of Spencer Hayes: “What you fail to understand is that it’s a story about life: love, friendship, sex, and the ever-lurking fate from the dark side that was created in me.”