Review: South of Heaven (DVD)

Synapse Films brings this genre defying indie film fest favorite to DVD!

  • Director: J.L. Vara
  • Starring: Shea Whigham, Diora Baird, Jon Gries, Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
  • Year: 2008
  • Runtime: 97 Minutes
  • Company: Synapse Films
  • Format: DVD
  • Discs: 1
  • Video: 1.85:1 - Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 / English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • Region: All
  • Released: 10/11/11
  • -Purchase-

South of Heaven is a film that defies genre, classification and expectations. Going into this I had literally zero idea what the film was about which in this day and age is absolutely refreshing. Glancing at the cover art gives a couple of hints to what the film may be about. A revenge tale with possibly some western elements? Definitely a part of it but oh so much more. It's a Tex Avery-esque cartoon brought to life. A neo noir that would make Anthony Mann proud. It's a roller coaster of genre's that will leave you confused at first but ultimately stunned. Welcome to South of Heaven.
When Roy Coop finished his stint in the Navy, he only had two things on his mind: seeing his brother Dale, and writing the great American novel. What he gets, however, is the homecoming from Hell!  A pair of violent vaudevillians (Jon Gries Napoleon Dynamite, and Thomas Jay Ryan) mistake Roy for his brother, looking to collect on a debt he didn’t know he owed. Eight fingers later, Roy is burnt to a crisp, forged by fire into a new man. Roy is dead.  Nobody is born. Now it’s Nobody’s turn to have his wicked revenge, and to save his brother before it’s too late. Wrapped in bandages and ready for blood, Nobody is determined to kill those that get in his way, even the murdering masochist named Mad Dog Mantee (Shea Whigham, Machete). Dodging bullets and dodging dames, Nobody meets the nasty ne’er-do-wells Lily (Diora Baird, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and Veronica (Elina Lowensohn, Schindler's List). In this wonderful neo-film-noir, violence and vengeance are sure to meet in a little town they call… South of Heaven.
Right from the opening frame first time director J.L.Vara sets the tone for what's to come. We're treated to a Saul Bass reminiscent animated opening that established the story, the players and the unfolding score. It's not orthodox but neither is South of Heaven, it works wonderfully and instantly engages your attention. We then meet Roy Coop, a young timid guy fresh out of the Navy looking to catch up with his brother and get rich by writing a novel. The plans are indefinitely interrupted as two hired thugs (played flawlessly by Jon Gries & Thomas Jay Ryan) mistake Roy for his twin brother Dale and subject him to a series of brutal beatings. Turns out Dale was an accomplice to the murder of a young girl committed by outlaw Mad Dog (Shea Whigham in a career performance) and said thugs were hired to destroy the culprit. When Roy is reduced to a disfigured nobody by the hired hands, he pulls together a new persona, hell bent on exacting revenge.
South of Heaven is a special and unique film that doesn't come around too often. It fully embraces it's subject matter which is it's greatest achievement. It borrows from many genres but never comes off as pastiche. It's a stone cold homage of themed films that have come before it while staying true to it's own style and story. It's amazingly rare for a first time director to use an abundance of style while retaining an original and focused story that never complicates. This is a prime example of style and substance coming together to form something wholly incredible that will have everyone admiring it. I have to commend Synapse Films for taking a break from releasing catalog films to step up and put out an independent feature that will one day be considered a cult classic. Mark my words, South of Heaven will be look backed on fondly with a great deal of fans. I'm one of em.

    • Video
    Synapse brings South of Heaven to DVD with a really great looking anamorphic transfer presented in it's original 1.78:1 ratio. South of Heaven was shot on wonderful 35mm and it certainly shows. It's one of the films greatest assets making it rich with grain and unmistakeably filmic. Colors intendedly blast off the screen like a cartoon brought to life. In some scenes detail leans towards the soft side but overall it's solid all throughout. I can't help but think this film would truly benefit more so in HD, maybe one day Synapse will grace this film with a Blu-ray release.
    • Audio
    Included are a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround & Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. If you have surround sound definitely opt for the 5.1 track as it's loud and bold when it needs to be, particularly in scenes with violence. The films score is finely represented offering a great experience of the onscreen happenings.

    Bonus Features
    • Audio Commentary - Director J.L.Vara & Crew
    • Audio Commentary - Cast/Crew
    • Audio Commentary - Film Critics
      Offering their views and praise, film critics Devin Faraci (Badass Digest), Scott Weinberg (Fearnet) & Todd Brown (Twitch) engage in an insightful discussion that is well worth a listen.
    • Short FilmsAlso included are three short films from Director J.L.Vara titled Miserable Orphan, Azole Dkmuntch and A Boy and his Fetus.