Review: South of Sanity


At last! A movie that accurately portrays the denizens of our southern states – “South of Sanity.”

Actually, no. “South of Sanity” does poke fun at the negative sterotypes of white southern folks, specifically Alabamans, but in the same sort of way that the Wayan Brothers have lampooned Black sterotypes, and as comedians like Mel Brooks have exaggerated the foibles of Jews. Many more examples could be given.

Director/writer/star Shy Pilgreen (“Rag Doll”) has created an extended family portrait of hilarious southern types that run the gamut from moonshiners to flea-shop dealers to meth runners to unfit parents.

The story opens in Los Angeles, where Lacy Hilgreen (Pilgreen) wakes up in a motel room in bed with a stranger. There are empty beer cans on the nightstand. She’s been celebrating – it was her first night out of rehab. Lacy is short of cash, and the only option left to her is returning to her roots in Alabama and going to work for her brother Mike Pilgreen (Robert Peters), who runs a flea-market stall selling clothing.

Shy and her co-director and co-star Robert Peters (“Lincoln”) have chosen to tell most of the story of the Hilgreen family through Lacy’s first person narration and video camera. As a result, most of the film, especially the latter two/thirds, which takes place during the covid pandemic, are in closeup. This may sound strained, but it is surprisingly effective, especially with the wild assortment of characters that appear.

The writing and acting and technical work are all excellent. This is a low-budget flick, but unlike many of its brethren, the sound quality is good, lighting is decent, and the musical accompaniment enhances rather than detracts from the story being told.

The ads describing the project label it as a “dark comedy.” I didn’t find it so. While it does deal with the bizarre escapades of a somewhat demented clan and their associates, it is light-hearted throughout without the mean sarcasm one would expect from a “dark” anything. There are not a lot of heartfelt moments, although there is one between Lacy and Ila Hilgreen (Jennifer Pierce Mathus) near the beginning of the “pandemic” portion of the film.

Interestingly, the project began as two seasons of webisodes that were eventually assembled into the feature film. It maintains its episodic origin, right down to the individual episode titles, which also display the tongue in cheek cleverness of the originators. In an article for “FilmFree,” Shy Pilgreen explained, “The first season amounts to 11 webisodes, averaging anywhere from four to six minutes each. We also have a 30-minute version, where all the webisodes are strung together to make a pilot. We filmed season two in quarantine over zoom. This show is based on my family. Embellished, yes, but many of the bones are based in truth.”

Despite some nudity, crude situations and a lot of strong language (the most commonly used word is not “the”), this is a funny and enjoyable film that gives us an extravagant but still human look at some southern folks trying to make their way through this life.


Directors: Shy Pilgreen, Robert Peters
Writers: Shy Pilgreen, Hannah Alline, Jason White
Producers: David Kallaway
Cinematographer: Gregory Gray
Editors : Dave Edison, Jody Fedele
Music: Darin Bennett, Billy Watson

Lacy Hilgreen: Shy Pilgreen
Mike Hilgreen: Robert Peters
Ila Hilgreen: Jennifer Pierce Mathus
Jabo Dean: Jabo Bunn
Rosie: Brad Carter
Stank: Richie Montgomery
Lick: Billy Watson

Runtime: Two hours
Availability: Digital Platforms, July 1, 2023

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