Southbounders (2005), the Movie
Ashley, Billy, & Keith review Southbounders for PureBound.com:
Southbounders tells the amazing journey of a young woman, Olivia, who is trying to escape the harsh realities of society. She has just finished school and is being pressured by her parents to attend medical school. Instead of making a decision she decides to jump into the world of hiking. Olivia decides to attempt one of the hardest hiking trails in the world, the Appalachian Trail. The title comes from the direction in which she begins her journey. The Appalachian Trail stretches through 14 states and is approximately 2,200 miles. Along the way she meets many people and finds the love of her life, Roland, on the trail.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE
This movie is very realistic and it gives a true insight to what a hiker can expect to come across on a long distance trail. This movie is ideal for anyone who has ever wondered what backpacking is like. The actors are not well known, but they played the parts wonderfully. I would suggest this movie to anyone who is curious about hiking or backpacking. This film does not boast or go over the top about gear or equipment. It truly focuses on the journey each hiker will take.
It doesn’t hurt that it stars two young newcomers who are perfect for their roles. And the annoying hiker that turns out to be a great guy adds comedy to the plot. The actors make Southbounders a real pleasure to watch. The movie has an all around feel-good quality with enough reality to keep it grounded. This movie shows that everyone is not the same and does not conform to society's standards. After it was over I wanted to watch it again...and I wanted to go hiking.
Southbounders takes a very plausible route of a thru hiker running away from what is at home, to a world on the trail in order to find "answers" to life's situations. Olivia plays one of the three thru hikers experiencing a traditional thru hike (heavy equipment, escaping human problems) and tells a believable story of one's encounters (hunger, friendship, weather, failures) of a thru hike. I see Southbounders as a great intro to "life on the trail" from a thru hiker's perspective. The ending brought me back, and put a smile on my face as thru hiker comradery tells the tale of what thru hiking develops in the characters love for the trail, trail life, and each other.
Seeing Southbounders for a second time, brought me to enjoy both the idea of the Appalachian Trail, as well as, the feeling one has when thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. On my first viewing, I tried to relate the movie to my experience on my thru hike. The second time around, I followed the hikers' perspective and enjoyed the journey.
When my cousin, the beloved webmaster of PureBound.com, asked me to review the movie Southbounders for this site, I must admit to feeling a slight case of trepidation. I love movies, and I am a big fan of low budget movies, and I mean real low budget, not just “indie” Sundance films, but the kind of movie that used to be distributed on VHS through the classified section of Film Threat, and now might be found on DVD through the web. Nevertheless, a low budget film about hiking the Appalachian Trail sounded uninteresting at best. I am happy to report that my fears were unwarranted, and that Southbounders is a good movie.
Southbounders is the story of Olivia (Amy Cale Peterson), who unsure of the direction her life is taking decides to thru-hike the 2,170 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. The early part of the movie outlines Olivia’s first furtive and troubled steps along the trail. She wants to do it by herself, carries too much weight, makes slow progress, and refuses to heed any advice from more experienced hikers. In one scene, director Ben Wagner even creates some tension as Olivia tries to cross a rushing stream in her bare feet, and nearly drowns in the process. These early scenes are also peppered with flashbacks of her with her father as he, with all good intention, begins to map out his daughter’s life. This, no doubt, is her reason for wanting to do something of her own, and the frustration mounts as she begins to feel that she may not be up to the task.
At one of the shelters, she becomes the reluctant companion of Slackpack (Christopher McCutchen), a slacker hiker whose original companions have moved on. Slackpack talks too much, snores, and offers advice when unasked, and remains blissfully unaware of Olivia’s irritation towards him. Maybe he likes blondes, or maybe he just can’t help trying to help someone who seems to need it, but he doggedly sticks with her, eventually winning her and the audience over, so much so in fact, that when he later leaves the trail his presence is sorely missed. No one will fault him his reasons for leaving though.
Later they meet Rollin (Scott Speiser), who has slowed his hike due to a pulled hamstring. Olivia had become intrigued with Rollin prior to even meeting him by reading his entries in the journals left at each shelter along the trail. The three become a team for a time, and they share the trail with other hikers at a shelter, and also at a hostel. These scenes are handled well, and it is as if they were shot without anyone aware that there was a camera rolling. The acting in general seems very natural, and much better then could be expected from a first time director on a low budget film. It is too bad that the DVD did not have a commentary track, as I would like to hear how Wagner coaxed such natural performances from his unknown cast.
Wagner craftily shows examples of the AT culture without drawing undo attention to them. He wisely resists any urge for exposition by having a more experienced hiker explain to Olivia how things work on the trail in what would no doubt have been awkward and unnecessary dialog. There are even scenes with characters spouting things like “If you want to sound wise go to college, but if you want to be wise go to nature”. If I felt that Wagner was preaching to me, I would have been sorely irritated, but I never did, and felt that his true purpose was to show the varied attitudes of the denizens that populate the AT.
Although the movie loses a little steam when it concentrates on Olivia and Rollin alone, I feel that the story resists typical drama, and the script makes choices that are logical and true to the characters. What follows here is a love story of sorts. I say of sorts, because it seems realistic for two reasons. The first is that Rollin declares his love for Olivia seemingly because he has her all to himself without any of the pressures of civilization, no jealousy, and no commitment except to the trail. The second reason is that although Olivia enjoys his companionship and admires his writing talent, she does not love him, nor will she say so. She is too practical to have her head turned by romantic dreams of life in the forest with her noble savage. She takes the trail name of “Next Step”, and her next step does not necessarily include Rollin. Only in the last line does Wagner give in to a bit of melodrama, and although the message is a good one, it rings slightly false against all that preceded it.
I did have a problem with the soundtrack, and like my reaction to Takashi Miike’s interesting but overlong Izo, a film interspersed with many guitar-strummed songs that comment on the action, I felt that I did not want to hear a guitar for at least a week after viewing. I don’t mean to say that the music was bad, but I did feel that it was overused. It is a shame that Wagner did not have more faith in the nature encompassing the AT, so that he could have used nature sounds for long stretches instead of a music soundtrack. Maybe my recent viewing of Terrence Malick’s magnificent The New World has spoiled me, but the effect can be magical and this too could have illustrated the characters interaction with nature, an element surprisingly missing from this movie. Yes, I know that they swim in steams, and walk around naked, but I always felt that they were interacting with each other and never with the natural beauty around them.
Making a low budget film is no small task, and anyone who accomplishes this deserves praise. Wagner not only completed his film, but he made one with a fine story, and very good acting. I have no doubt that Southbounders might inspire those who see it to make the same journey that Olivia, Rollin and Slackpack made.
To learn more about Southbounders ; or purchase the Movie, visit: Southbounders.com