Fantastic Fest 2010 Review: RED HILL
Writer: Patrick Hughes
Director: Patrick Hughes
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tommy Lewis, Claire van der Boom, Cliff Ellen
It is Shane Cooper’s (Ryan Kwanten) first day on the job in the tiny town of Red Hill. The young police officer has moved himself and his expecting wife (Claire van der Boom) out to a veritable no man’s land for a taste of the slow life, to get out of the city, and maybe to get over some lingering issues Cooper has with the nature of his job. But Red Hill is not the place to go for a strolling-down-Main-Street type of existence. Not even remotely.
Red Hill is not some Aussie Mayberry. Today is not a normal day. Things are not what they seem.
Writer and director Patrick Hughes quickly lays down the mounting problems of Red Hill – the town is poor, there may be a panther killing livestock, there is a storm on the horizon, no one cares about Cooper. And there is a convicted killer who has just busted out of maximum-security prison and is aiming straight for the little hamlet. It’s lovely in Red Hill, isn’t it? But despite this hearty number of issues that will rule over Cooper and his day, RED HILL never feels over-encumbered or simply scary, there’s a tension here – we don’t know what’s going to strike first and we don’t know why, but we know something will.
RED HILL goes old school Western, and quickly. The Red Hill Police employ their own faithful stead for going out into the country mountains – really, it’s a horse, and city boy Cooper gets thrown in her saddle in short order. And when Cooper gets back from investigating a supposed panther-gnawed pony, he finds the small police station overrun with locals forming a posse, all under the grizzled eye of head of police, Old Bill (Steve Bisley). That escaped convict? Jimmy Conway? Better believe he’s coming to Red Hill, the very town where he murdered his wife and tried to kill Old Bill himself, and just about lit everything on fire. The last thing the Red Hill posse is going to abide is a Conway infiltration, so wrangle up your boys and your guns, and let’s get this shoot-out going. You take the high road, I'll take the low, and we'll see how this all shakes out (read: badly).
But, beyond all those traditional markers of a revenge flick gone Western, there is also an inescapable element of mysticism to RED HILL. Beyond just the looming specter of the legendary panther out prowling the plains, the panther comes to represent something close to invincibility. It’s a bloody, broken invincibility, to be sure, but our characters escape from a number of scrapes that should spell certain death. There is something else at play out in Red Hill, and what’s most interesting about it is who it attaches itself to – those are the players worth watching. Does revenge give you an extra bullet in your gun? Maybe – if it’s a deserving revenge.
RED HILL is stylish without being cloying, with a number of shots that hem to the side of epic, and a score so pitch-perfect to the film's tone that it weaves itself in almost imperceptibly. It will inevitably be called an Australian take on the American Western, and it will probably find itself grouped in with the year’s other Aussie crime thrillers, like ANIMAL KINGDOM or THE SQUARE. It’s certainly less brutal than those films, but that doesn’t mean it has less to say. The sum of its parts is ceaselessly entertaining to watch – a tense storybook with a moral center and a cast that holds the screen as firmly as they hold their guns.
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