King of the Hill

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Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival

AMSTERDAM -- Most dangerous games are the order of the day in "King of the Hill" ("El Rey de la Montana"), a small-scale, tightly focused drama, which is perhaps a shade too low-key to make significant commercial international waves outside the festival circuit. It's the latest in an exceedingly long line of movies warning city-dwellers against venturing into the countryside, here the damp hills between Burgos and Soria in northern Spain, starkly alluring backdrops for an admirably tense and economic affair which recalls American forerunners such as "Deliverance" and "Southern Comfort."

This subgenre's protagonists invariably find themselves between the crosshairs of unseen assailants' sniper rifles -- and it's traditional for audiences to know only as much as the hapless characters themselves. That applies for much of "King of the Hill," in which thirtysomething Quim (Leonardo Sbaraglia), mildly disoriented by love-life woes, impulsively -- and literally -- drives down the road less traveled after a steamy gas-station entanglement with pickpocket Bea (Maria Valverde). Before long, Quim and Bea must abandon their vehicles and literally run for their lives through an unforgiving environment of implacable hostility.

But director-editor-co-writer Lopez-Gallego follows established templates only up to a certain point. The divergence comes just after an hour, with a shift in perspective from prey to predator. The latter's unexpected youth, echoing David Moreau and Xavier Palud's flashy French chiller "They." Lopez-Gallego and co-scriptwriter Javier Gullon make rather more of this than Moreau and Palud managed: It's a plus that, when the principal mystery is resolved, this only provokes further, more troubling (and unanswered) questions. Although the First Person Shooter perspective occasionally adopted by Jose David Montero's camera explicitly indicts bloodthirstier video-games and their effect on immature minds, even audiences who don't share this particular mindset will be engaged by the film's controlled precision as it builds steadily towards a crackerjack finale. Daniel Urdales' sound-design, from ricocheting bullets to the wind soughing in lonely pines, hits the target with particularly dead-eye accuracy.

KING OF THE HILL
The Weinstein Co.
A Goodfellas production in association with Decontrabando and Telecinco
Sales: Coach14
Credits:
Director: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Writers: Javier Gullon, Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Producers: Juamna Arace, Alvaro Augustin, Miguel Bardem, Juan Pita
Director of photography: Jose David Montero
Production designers: Juana Arance, Pello Villalba
Music: David Crespo
Costume designer: Tatiana Hernandez
Editor: Gonzalez Lopez-Gallego
Cast:
Quim: Leonardo Sbaraglia
Bea: Maria Valverde
Young Civil Guard: Pablo Menasanch
Big brother: Andres Juste
Little brother: Thomas Riordan
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating
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