“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 mistake Roy for brother, looking to collect on a debt that 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.”
Writer/director J.L. Vara‘s feature-length debut is an insane collision of noir and cartoon like influences. It’s a film that is impossible to neatly categorise, having its severed fingers dipped equally into the revenge, horror, action, western and the aforementioned noir genres. From the very beginning, with its animated opening title sequence, South Of Heaven blends these influences up and sprinkles them with a dark humour to top it off. The result is one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
With his brother’s promise of a future on easy street and a typewriter with his name on it, Roy Coop (Adam Nee), heads home to San Francisco to write the novel he’s always wanted to write. Upon arrival he’s not greeted by his brother Dale (played by real life brother Aaron Nee), but by an empty apartment, the promised typewriter and a scrawled message “Mad Dog wuz here”. Not thinking twice, Roy settles in and starts writing when he’s interrupted by a knock on the door. Enter two of a man named Bobo’s henchmen looking for Bobo’s missing daughter. Played by John Gries (Uncle Rico from Napolean Dynamite) and Thomas Jay Ryan, these two could be the bad guys in a ultraviolent version of Dick Tracy.
In a case of mistaken identity, Roy is left, beaten and missing a finger, to be found by Veronica (played to noir perfection by Nadja herself, Elina Lowensohn). Veronica is a mysterious beauty who shows up looking for Dale, finding the bleeding Roy on the floor and tends to his wounds. Even after her act of good samaritanism we really don’t know what Veronica’s motives are, or if she is to be trusted. We do know, however, that she has wonderful cleavage!
So where exactly is brother Dale? On the run with a bad ass hillbilly with a propensity for violence named Mad Dog Mantee. Played by Shea Wigham ( TV’s Boardwalk Empire), Mad Dog wouldn’t be out-of-place in a spaghetti western, or as a villain in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart even. Not only is he a rotten son of a bitch, but he does a touching rendition of Depeche Mode’s “Somebody” (no, really, he does.) Dale has gotten sucked up into Mad Dog’s murderous insanity and is stuck in a “partnership” that you can tell he’s less than thrilled to be in. En route to Mad Dog’s home town of South of Heaven, Texas, Dale’s only solace comes at night when counting sheep and when he meets Lily (Night Of The Demons 2010). Lily is living with a man named Rooster who puts Dale and Mad Dog up in his cabin to lay low.
The film goes back and forth between the on the run adventures of Dale and Mad Dog, and the misfortune of Roy as he is repeatedly visited by Bobo’s thugs, each time being a more brutal experience then the last. Finally Roy is left a burnt mess of a man, missing a mad amount of fingers and truly, rightfully pissed off. Looking like a cross between Darkman and Eraserhead, Roy emerges as Nobody and he’s out to not only seek revenge on the guys who fucked him up, but on the man who has his brother, Mad Dog Mantee. Nobody heads to South of Heaven with a pawn shop Saturday night special “made for Mondays”.
The final act of South Of Heaven is where the characters really shine, and is as tense as it is touching. South Of Heaven is one of those films that works on so many levels, that I think most genre fans would be hard-pressed to find much to complain about. The script and direction are spot on, the seamless blend of genres should make Tarantino take note, and the cast is one hundred percent fucking incredible. South Of Heaven is the closest thing to perfect you’re gonna get this year.
South Of Heaven hits store shelves on DVD (unfortunately no Blu) next Tuesday, October 11th.
South Of Heaven rates a perfect 5 Screaming Jamies