Fantastic Fest 2010: RED HILL Review
Red Hill is a straightforward modern revenge western that provides plenty of slick thrills and pacey action, with racial undertones and perhaps the most startling animal appearance of the year...if that's even a category.
Police officer Shane Cooper (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) and his wife move from the city to the rural Red Hill, in search of a peaceful existence in which they can raise their child. On arrival, Cooper immediately clashes with police chief Old Bill (Steve Bisley) who's not one for city folk. Cooper's first day gets worse still, when murderer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) escapes from a maximum security prison and the police department seems convinced he's heading for Red Hill. Having put him away originally, Bill is certain the half aborigine Conway is out for revenge. Over the course of a single day and night Cooper untangles the town's murky history whilst avoiding death at the hands of Conway, as he mercilessly picks off the townspeople one by one.
Essentially an update of High Plains Drifter, Red Hill does a great job of revealing how the small town is steeped with collective guilt as Conway rides in like an avenging angel to set things right. Director Patrick Hughes marks his heroes and villains early on with Conway the ambiguous core. Kwanten is perfectly cast as the young buck nemesis to Steve Bisley's bigoted chief, and the townspeople are a lively mix of the cowardly and the cruel. Although together in barely a handful of scenes Shane and his wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) are an instantly likeable couple whose plight is at once sympathetic. Housebound and under doctors orders to keep her heart rate low, there's something rather touching about Shane's unswerving devotion to the cause.
The action kicks in early with some brutal violence, but there's always an underlying sense of pathos to back it up as a haunted Conway ploughs through the town with a burned face and a black duster. It's also shot with some flair, mostly at night, and is paced to perfection. Hughes hints at racial tensions without overplaying it. When a farmer alleges his cattle are being killed by a panther, a disbelieving Bill proclaims "this is Australia, not Africa", metaphorically asserting his misguided bigotry and the rotten heart of the town.
An imaginative take on old staples, Red Hill is exciting without offering many surprises, but it's ably performed and directed with enough soul to keep you hooked beyond the death-dealing.
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