The Dirty South (2024) Benefits from a heartfelt performance

Director: Matthew Yerby
Cast: Willa Holland, Shane West, Dermot Mulroney, Wayne Pére, Andrew Vogel
107 mins

Written and directed by debut filmmaker Matthew Yerby, this small town crime thriller is set in Natchitoches, Louisiana and stars Willa Holland (Arrow) as Sue Parker, a young woman who’s struggling to hold on to her family bar in the face of aggressive interest from local big-shot Jeb Roy (Dermot Mulroney) and her father’s (Wayne Pére) crippling addiction problems, which have left them behind on payments. In desperation, Sue hooks up with grifting drifter Dion (Shane West) and together they devise a plan to make the $30,000 she needs to stop Jeb from taking her bar.

The Dirty South (2023) - IMDb

Yerby shot the film in his home town, and he creates a strong sense of place and atmosphere as a result, particularly when it comes to illustrating the rich-poor divide that’s at the heart of the story. He also makes smart use of the town’s geography, most notably a river-turned-lake that ends up playing a significant part. It’s also a nice touch that the film uses ‘wrong side of the river’ like ‘wrong side of the tracks’.

As for the performances, Holland has terrific screen presence – she was always the best thing about the Arrow TV show – and she’s on magnificent form here, whether busting up bar fights, seducing Dion into becoming her partner-in-crime or holding her own against Jeb’s veiled threats. She also sparks strong chemistry with West, whose vaguely sleazy charm is put to good use here (standard move: distract a bar full of men with a couple of cute dancing girls, pick every pocket and siphon everyone’s petrol from the parking lot afterwards).

There’s also enjoyably hissable support from Mulroney (who’s always more fun as a baddie than a goodie) and a compelling turn from Pére as Sue’s pathetically weak father, who’s still in love with the woman who abandoned him and Sue years ago – the scene where he thinks he’s finally got her back is genuinely heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t entirely without flaws. For one thing, the script bottles out of what was clearly intended to be a major plot point – Jeb broke up a relationship between Sue and his now adult son Mark (Andrew Vogel) when they were younger, and it’s strongly suggested the pair are brother and sister, with Jeb getting especially angry after Mark returns and tries to rekindle things with Sue.

That ties in with the film’s other problem, an ending that feels too rushed and strongly smacks of last minute rewrites and hasty editing. At any rate, it fails to satisfy, to the point where it feels like there was meant to be a good twenty minutes or so of the story that somehow got lost along the way.

In short, The Dirty South is an entirely watchable thriller that benefits from a heartfelt performance from Holland (seriously, if there was any justice, she’d be a proper movie star) and scores highly in terms of character and small-town atmosphere, but fumbles the ball in the final act.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Author

  • Matthew Turner

    A lifelong film fanatic, Matthew Turner (FilmFan1971) is a London-based critic and author, as well as the co-host of Fatal Attractions, a podcast on erotic thrillers. His favourite film is Vertigo and he hasn't missed an episode of EastEnders since 1998.