Red Hill, directed, written, edited and produced by Patrick Hughes in his feature length debut, is the latest of many recent genre pieces to emerge from Australia. After the success of Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (2005) a wave of films reminiscent of the 70s ‘Ozploitation’ features have come along, including Storm Warning (Jamie Blanks,2007), Rogue (Greg McLean,2007) and The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne,2009). Hughes’ movie, which grafts many of the traits of the Western genre (a local ‘sheriff’, outlaws, endangered townsfolk and vengeful horse-riding posses) onto a modern day setting in much the same way as Tommy Lee Jones’ exceptional The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) as well as relocating them to Australia as John Hillcoat did in The Proposition (2005), may not break any new ground, and at times suffers from one too many of those genre cliches, but what it does it does in a lean and entertaining fashion.
Hughes has assembled a cult cast, featuring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, best remembered by international audiences as Jim Goose in Mad Max (George Miller,1979), Tommy Lewis, so memorable as the lead in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi,1978) and Kevin Harrington of Neighbours fame, for this stripped back, revenge thriller. The economic plot sees Kwanten’s young police officer Shane Cooper starting his first day on the job after relocating from the city to the small town of Red Hill in Australia’s high country with his pregnant wife. Unfortunately for Cooper his first day coincides with the escape from prison of convicted murderer and former resident of Red Hill Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), who makes a beeline straight for the town, seemingly hellbent on murdering whoever crosses his path. With his fellow officers and townsfolk, including Bisley’s no nonsense, domineering Police Chief ‘Old Bill’, alerted to the situation the town effectively goes into lock-down and prepares itself for Conway’s arrival. What follows is a fairly predictable tale (secrets revealed, shoot-outs and injustices righted with the embattled Cooper caught up in events), but it’s done with a fair amount of panache and romps along at a considerable pace. Hughes inserts an off kilter, quasi-mystical sub-plot into proceedings, involving an escaped Panther and the facially disfigured Conway’s near supernatural ability to dodge bullets. Tommy Lewis’ virtually mute Jimmy Conway is a convincing presence, single minded and ruthless in his mission, but also possessed of a moral code that ties into the film’s narrative arc and he, along with Kwanten’s idealistic Cooper and Bisley’s thoroughly corrupt ‘Old Bill’ make for an engaging trio of characters that alleviate the predictability of the well worn plot. The Western genre milieu and plot points recall Ted Post’s Hang ’em High (1968) and whilst the climax is no great surprise there’s a lot of fun to be had on the way there.
Red Hill makes for a great Friday night B-movie with its enthusiastic performances, great use of the isolated landscape, no nonsense narrative and gruesome action sequences. Hughes proves himself to be an adept director and in theory should carve out an interesting and entertaining niche as a genre film-maker.