Directed by Patrick Hughes, Red Hill is Australia’s latest contribution to the Western. Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his pregnant wife move away from the hustle of the police force in the big city to Red Hill. Unbeknownst to Shane, he walked into a town just before hell is about to descend. When he arrives he meets the local police which comprises of scores of unpleasant people. After returning from what is a routine he is met with the breaking news that the notorious criminal Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has escaped from prison and is heading to Red Hill to exact his revenge. Shane now has to choose whether to be faithful to his job and obey his superiors or look for the reason behind the revenge, which is deeper than first appears.
As far as the story goes it never delves any deeper than being an action revenge film. To follow the rules of lazy film criticism that took the adjustment bureau and came away with Bourne meets Inception, I will follow suit and say that Red Hill is No Country for Old Men meets Dead Man’s shoes. There is a revenge western but there is a recurring appearance that can only be described as bizarre. There is a small section of Red Hill where the token old, crazy guy of western lore believes there to be a Panther roaming the Australian outback spooking the horses. The police force believes this to be as ridiculous as it sounds. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t blowing smoke as the Panther turns up in the film in a scene which completely blindsided me. I wasn’t sure what was meant, whether the Panther was meant to be a joke or whether it was surreal for the sake of it. The impact of the contradiction between this gorgeous big cat and the isolation of the outback ensures that even if I didn’t know what this symbolised, it cut a wonderful image anyway.
The structure of the film is fairly typical for a revenge thriller. Red Hill is a war between one man and an army of policemen and trigger-happy yokels all of whom are led by the unsympathetic chief inspector, Old Bill (Steve Bisley). This would be another unremarkable as a one-against-many film to add to an already hefty pile if its execution wasn’t the selling point it is. Instead of relying solely on tropes typically associated with revenge tales it takes another note. It’s a welcome direction taken by the director as you can only see the same revenge concept so many times before your brain starts to switch off. When the war starts the tone changes from a small town western to an old-fashioned horror such as John’s Carpenters Halloween with the antagonist – Michael Myers – suddenly transposed to the outback. That is to say that for during the final two-thirds, Red Hill plays out like a slasher with a gun. The comparison with Michael Myers is surprising apt too thanks to Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) as a menacing bad-ass complete with scar roaming the town on a killing spree in complete, stone-cold silence.
The action set pieces come in all shapes and forms whether that is hyper violence, car crashes or simple shoot-outs. When you consider that the film only cost $720,000 and with that, the action set pieces are just as accomplished as a film that cost 100 times that measly budget, it is easy to come away impressed. It’s also a beautiful shot film; sure some of the cinematography looks like it was shot for a promotional campaign, nevertheless, this is an excellently-shot film by a very young and promising director.
They are the inevitable weaknesses but in this case they aren’t because of what the film does or doesn’t do but because of what the film is. The western might be going through a phase of growth, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about revenge. It’s all been done a thousand times before, every twist in every conceivable direction, it’s all been done and then some. As a by-product of this over-saturation, the stakes have to be turned up to 11 and exist solely as a hyper-violent gore factory for people to notice any film that uses vengeance as its motivation. Or feature actors giving their all, either help with a theme as worn-in as revenge and Red Hill has the central trio of Lewis, Kwanten & Bisley put in great performances.
As much as I can recommend Red Hill for the enjoyable western/horror hybrid that it is, through no fault of its own it will disappear into anonymity. Such is the nature of genres as old as the western and themes as drawn out as revenge, you will only remember your favourites and eccentric outsiders. Unfortunately, Patrick Hughes’s film is neither, but what it is is a relentless stretch that keeps firm hold until it’s finished with you. I will close out by addressing fans of the western, ignore the star-studded, studio fronted affairs, they don’t need your help, films like Red Hill are what made the wild west of cinema what it was – they need your support, they need to be championed.