Rating: R
Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tommy Lewis, Claire van der Boom
Writer: Patrick Hughes
Director: Patrick Hughes
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Release Date: November 5th, 2010

Poor Shawn Cooper (Ryan Kwanten). He and his pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) arrive at the tiny Outback town of Red Hill, where Shawn has been transferred, per his request, to be a new deputy. Shawn walks into town from his new house to meet his fellow deputies – a mixed lot – and their boss, known as Old Bill (Steve Bisley), a cantankerous but effective lawman who seems to have seen it all. Then the radio reports that convicted murderer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has escaped from prison. Tommy was a local man and Old Bill put him away. Now it looks like the extremely dangerous escapee is heading into Red Hill for revenge. Shawn winds up in situations he never imagined as things get more and more perilous.

The screenplay by writer/director Patrick Hughes hinges on one of those Big Secrets that’s not too hard to guess. Despite this, Hughes keeps up the tension, with some impressive violence. Conway is played and depicted as a figure of almost mythic power and implacable force, which gives RED HILL momentum. Kwanten makes his doggedly honorable young deputy with a past someone we like, and Bisley is fiercely tough as Old Bill. Lewis makes us believe he’s able to do everything that Conway does, which is quite a bit.

Hughes uses the old-fashioned-looking town and immense landscapes to give the story a timeless feel and finds a plausible plot reason to put Shawn on horseback for much of the movie, giving it even more of a Western feel.

As with most Westerns, RED HILL has themes of the old clashing with the new, but the twist here is that what’s happening in the town of Red Hill is that the town is gradually shrinking, returning to how it was, rather than being transformed by modernity. This is in fact at the heart of the story – Old Bill’s rant at a town meeting near the start is both a character moment and a major piece of foundation.

The film tips its hand much earlier than it seems to intend to, with the obvious answer to certain mysteries being immediately evident, especially when one character uses an epithet that indicates more than we’re meant to know at that point. This makes all the ensuing attempts to maintain enigma and discovery feel somewhat rote.

However, when Hughes is in action mode, he does strong work, bordering on horror in places, even if he does stage some physical improbabilities, like a blazing fire in the middle of a rainstorm. Due to something neither he nor Kwanten could have foreseen during the making of this movie, there’s a singular coincidence relating to Kwanten’s character on TRUE BLOOD (Kwanten is certainly the only actor this year to have these scenes in two different projects).

RED HILL doesn’t set up its foreshadowing as well as it might, but overall, it works as a tale of places where the West, for good and ill, is still alive.

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