Red Hill -- Film Review

The suspense that director Patrick Hughes manages to mount remains low-grade throughout and the plot never becomes entirely plausible.

This first feature demonstrates that 31-year-old Aussie director Patrick Hughes likes to be in control -- after all, he's listed as writer, director, editor, and producer -- and also that he's got a very good eye. The visuals in this Western from Down Under are always expressive and occasionally memorable, and Hughes seems to have a gift for knowing where to put the camera to accentuate his moody thriller.

But visuals aren't everything, of course, and despite some semi-surprising twists near the end, Red Hill is weighed down and finally destroyed by too many cliches and a lack of clarity about what's being attempted. Television and ancillary rights are a possibility in some territories, but theatrical release, except perhaps in the shopping malls of Australia, seems a long shot.

Shane Cooper is a young police officer who, with his pregnant wife, has relocated to the high country of Australia to assure his budding family some peace and quiet. The dream is shattered on his first day at work when the television news announces that Jimmy Conway, a local aborigine convicted of murder, has escaped from prison. Everyone in Red Hill knows that Jimmy will soon be heading their way to seek revenge.

Hughes's debut is filled with the myriad conventions that either ratify a genre's staying power or display an acute lack of imagination, depending on how you look at it. Of course Shane is bullied by his hard-bitten boss, Old Bill, and chuckles are produced when he's forced to use a horse as his police vehicle, which the city boy clearly doesn't know how to ride. Each minor revelation is punctuated by that guitar twang first introduced by Sergio Leone, and used to death ever since.

When Jimmy Conway first appears he seems to have escaped from a horror film rather than prison, what with his burned and scarred face. Uttering nary a word, he proceeds to kill virtually every member of the macho posse that has been formed to greet him. Only Jimmy stands in his way.

The suspense that Hughes manages to mount remains low-grade throughout and the plot never becomes entirely plausible. At one point the tone of dread is completely destroyed when Shane pops back to his house to retrieve his weapon and has to undergo wifely banter concerning how his first day went. The final twists in the story would have had more power if Hughes had written a few hints into the script to signal their approach. The music is loud and mostly dreadful, and the climactic scene is so artificially jacked up that the film threatens to literally self-destruct. When a semi-mythic panther is introduced into the scenario one feels Hughes's strain.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Panorama

Production Companies: Hughes House Films, Wildheart Films, Wolf Creek Pictures, McMahon International Pictures
Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis, Claire van der Boom
Director: Patrick Hughes
Screenwriter: Patrick Hughes
Producer: Patrick Hughes, Al Clark
Executive producers: Greg McLean, Rob
Galluzzo, Craig McMahon
Director of photography: Tim Hudson 
Production designer: Enzo Iacono.
Music: Dimitri Golovko.
Costume designer: Nicola Dunn 
Editor: Patrick Hughes 
Sales: Arc Light Films
No rating, 94 minutes