[EDITOR'S NOTE: An Unreal TV interview with "Southbounders" writer/director has been posted.]
The June 23, 2015 VOD release of the alternative-style docu-drama "Southbounders" enhances the sense that indie flicks hitting the market in June 2015 are directed at your (sometimes) humble reviewer. Examples include the relationship of the estranged adult siblings in the recently reviewed "The Last Treasure Hunt" and a savage boy essentially randomly targeting a man in the soon-to-be-reviewed "Still."
Fortunately, the association in "Southbounders" is extremely pleasant. This tale of 20-something woman Olivia attempting the six-month "thru-hike" of the 2,170 mile Georgia-to-Maine Appalachian Trail (AT) has nice common elements with many nice day hikes along the AT and a wonderful summer working at the Pinkham Notch Lodge that the Appalachian Mountain Club operates at the base of Mount Washington in Gorham, NH. This stint includes being the guy with sprained ankle and shoulder (trail safety is for sissies :-)) helping people plan hikes.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the "Southbounders" trailer achieves its goal of conveying a sense of the spectacular scenery and the characters who inhabit it in the film.
The lure and lore of the AT that the story of Olivia and the AT motto "Hike Your Own Hike" reflect is that there are almost as many reasons that people attempt that trek as there are hikers. Real-life examples include surviving cancer, a "gap year" project between high school and college or between college and the real world, restarting life after the death of a spouse, wanting to lose a great deal of weight, etc. In the case of Olivia, her trip is in response to medical school related angst.
A personal AT experience that almost ended with abandoning male pride to the extreme degree of accepting an offer to become a human backpack of a Marine but that wrapped up with walking out solo is a minor example of the sense of accomplishment that thru-hikers seek.
A general sense of the (unseen) Reese Witherspoon film "Wild' strongly suggest that this movie is a variation of "Southbounders" for the reasons described above.
Although the majority of thru-hikers are "northbounders" who start in Georgia in March or April and finish in Maine in September or October, the titular trekkers in "Southbounders" take the opposite scenic route.
Olivia, whose trail name is remaining spoiler-free, soon encounters laid-back but obnoxiously chatty and intrusive "Slackpack." This hiker latching onto a clearly unenthusiastic Olivia makes it very clear that the supplies in his backpack do not include a clue. It also makes one wish for this oaf to become the victim of "Deliverance" style mayhem.
This pair soon encounters the more attractive and personable Rollin, as in "rollin' along." The initial meeting of this man and Olivia is a modern take on the legend of Androcles and the lion absence any actual thorns. They soon become the "parents" of the trio with the older and larger Slackpack playing the role of the obliviously annoying "Mearthlike" child.
The appeal of this should-be-a-classic film extends well beyond the chemistry between Olivia and Rollin' and the realistic path of their courtship that strongly parallels a real-life Pinkham Notch one. The AT is a character to the extent that "Southbounders" almost certainly is behind numerous folks lacing up their boots and hitting that trail.
Virtually every scene is beautifully shot either on the AT or the communities through which the AT meanders. Director/writer Ben "Sundown" Wagner additionally includes numerous elements of the AT community in the film.
Wagner provides a realistically excellent sense of community that thru-hikers experience on the trail, staying in the lean-to shelters along the way, enjoying the "luxury" of hostels, and both encountering "freaks" and engaging in personal "freakish" behavior. We further get a glimpse of the carefully planned mail drops along the way but do not see the '30s hobo style network that shares knowledge of folks who are prone to provide other forms of shelter and support along the way.
The end of the trail regarding this post is that "Southbounders" is an interesting artistic film that makes fiction look like an unbiased documentary.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Southbounders" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.