South of Heaven DVD Review
Written by TGM
DVD released by Synapse Films
Written and Directed by Jonathan Vara
2008, NTSC, 92 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released October 11th, 2011
Diora Baird as Lily
Jon Gries as Hood 1
Lena Gwendolyn Hill as Lulu (as Lena Hill)
Elina Löwensohn as Veronica
Aaron Nee as Dale Coop
Adam Nee as Roy Coop
Sy Richardson as Pawn Daddy
Thomas Jay Ryan as Hood 2
George 'The Animal' Steele as The Man
Joe Unger as Rooster
Shea Whigham as Mad Dog Mantee
No amount of words strewn on a page could do justice to how odd Jonathan Vara’s South of Heaven is… but I will valiantly try. Imagine Darkman, Roger Rabbit, and a bunch of Dick Tracy villains taking part in a frantic and violent gang-bang hosted by the Coen Brothers in Disneyland. Then, and only then, might you begin to comprehend how uniquely strange and curiously refreshing this movie is. In a world riddled with neutered sequels, mind-numbingly bad prequels, unnecessary remakes, and film adaptations of tired television shows from the ‘80s, it’s always nice to come across something that not only takes risks and offers something new, but does it in a tremendously successful way.
South of Heaven is the story of Roy Coop, mistaken for his deadbeat brother Dale, who lacked the common sense not to get involved in a kidnapping scheme gone horribly wrong. When the father of the kidnapped girl tires of receiving decomposing fingers in the mail attached to ransom demands, he sends two of his barbershop-quartet-looking goons to exact vengeance. Since Dale signed the ransom note, it made it rather easy to track down where he lived. Staying at Dale’s, Roy — straight out of an honorable discharge from the Navy and blissfully unaware of his brother’s involvement with the kidnapping — becomes the primary focus of retribution. Fingers cut off, face pounded into pulp, and head ultimately dunked in a flaming trashcan, Roy Coop somehow survives the ordeal only to be transformed into Nobody, a scarred and bandaged antihero hell-bent on his own personal revenge.
Despite its over-the-top quirkiness (and penchant for breaking into spontaneous a capella Depeche Mode ballads), the acting is across-the-board fantastic. However, I would be remiss if I did not single out one performance in particular, that from Shea Whigham as Mad Dog Mantee, the unstable mastermind behind the kidnapping. His amazing pompadour-coifed portrayal alone is worthy of watching, renting, and buying South of Heaven, as it might be one of the most ruthless yet strangely likable characters to make it onto the screen in the past 10 years.
I will concede that South of Heaven is certainly not a movie for everyone (although it should be). It is simultaneously whimsical and seedy. Lighthearted yet depraved. Comfy yet disturbing. It’s a disjointed cinematic paradox that simply won’t fit into any preconceived category. You’ll never reach for it to successfully satiate a desire to watch a “horror” movie, or a “comedy”, or a “drama”, or a “western” as it is all of these things while at the same time none.
Video and Audio:
The anamorphic widescreen video is bright and clean without much, if any, artifacting. It doesn't hurt that the film is full of colorful (literally) characters and set pieces. The 5.1 audio is also above average, giving your surrounds something do to during the more violent aspects of the film. The dialogue is never muddled or inconsistent which is always a plus.
There is a disappointing scarcity of special features in this release. It would have been wonderful to see some sort of behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, or blooper real for a film such as this. There are, however, three not-so-short films ("Miserable Orphan" 38mins; "Azole Dkmuntch" 28mins; and "A Boy and His Fetus" 15mins) written and directed by Jonathan Vara who is evidently channeling his inner David Lynch. Each short is more disturbing than the next, offering some twisted insight into the mind of a filmmaker with extreme talent and apparent family issues.