Film Review: “South of Heaven”

Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Evangeline Lilly and Mike Colter
Directed by: Aharon Keshales
Rated: R
Running Time: 120 minutes
RLJE Films

I don’t really invest much in film synopses for the simple fact that it’s a form of advertising. I’m sure if it was up to the director or writer, they’d want something vague so that the audience could be blissfully unaware of what they will experience. So maybe the director wrote the synopsis for “South of Heaven.” According to IMDb, “Convicted felon Jimmy gets early parole after serving twelve years for armed robbery. Upon his release, he vows to give Annie, his childhood love, now dying from cancer, the best last year of her life – unfortunately it’s not that simple.” Unfortunately, this movie isn’t that simple.

Jimmy (played by Sudeikis with that Midwestern Ted Lasso accent) gets out of the jail at the beginning of the film and we watch as he reunites with his fiance, Annie (Lilly) – so far so good. Unfortunately for Jimmy, who is not only attempting to give the love of his life the best last year of her life, but is also trying to keep his moral compass straight and narrow, his parole office is crooked – so far it’s interesting. And then things just get…peculiar. Actually, that’s too nice of a word. Things get batshit.

I’m not sure how much I should reveal because this movie takes so many different bizarre turns. I went from casually watching to trying to figure out if I should laugh or be frustrated. Director and writer Aharon Keshales did 2013’s “Big Bad Wolves,” a very underrated film that I enjoyed on multiple viewings. I can’t say the same thing for “South of Heaven” because there seems to be this creative idea of monkeying with the criminal simplicities that the story uses. It’s one thing to tinker with the genre formula to craft something unique, but it’s another to grab the wheel and go careening off a cliff into unpredictability. If “South of Heaven” wants to be violently graphic and unpredictable, it should have at least attempted a little class and ingenuity instead of smashing viewer’s faces with a metaphorical hammer. I really wish I could articulate this through examples, but then I’d spoil the batshittery of the film.

In the beginning, the movie establishes a sweet and wholesome relationship between Jimmy and Annie, but as time goes on, you can’t help but wonder if Annie is simply stuck because of her lethal diagnosis. Maybe they’re two odd ducks who are making it work, but watching Jimmy go from a very buttery likable man to an 80s action star in the midst of a rampage is hardly believable or likable. I couldn’t tell if I should be upset that the film wasted everyone’s time or simply wanted us to throw out our sensibilities of wanting to like the character and simply cheer on the wildly unreasonable person Jimmy is or has become. That’s another thing, you never know if Jimmy has always has sociopathic tendencies or if “love” did this to him. I’m going to err on the side of caution though. “South of Heaven” had a loaded gun ready to blow audiences away, but instead it loaded that gun with blanks.

 

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