Sony // 2010 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // January 26th, 2011
Revenge just rode into town.
Red Hill is a terrific thriller, stocked with solid performances, slick action, and high tension. Directed by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes, Red Hill may appear to be working from a derivative concept, but in execution it's an exhilarating ride.
Relocating to the quiet town of Red Hill so as to relax his heavily pregnant spouse, Constable Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten, True Blood) is looking forward to walking an easier beat in the remote outback community. However the locals aren't too enthused with the newcomer, not least Shane's superior Old Bill (Steve Bisley, Mad Max), the gruff and patronizing town sheriff. Things take a turn for the worst when killer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis, The Proposition) returns to Red Hill, after having escaped from a maximum security prison. Jimmy is back to exact revenge on the Police Department that put him away, and that now includes Shane. It doesn't take long for Jimmy to make himself known, the Aboriginal criminal quickly starting to decimate the town's population, but it promptly transpires there are other reasons for his complete loathing of this seemingly quaint area.
Hughes guides Red Hill with a steady hand and keen sense of pace, the picture's 95 minute runtime simply flying by. Red Hill isn't a wildly inventive take on the Western genre, but it is a well constructed and expertly staged affair that oozes suspense from every frame. Visually it's a delightful looking feature, its limited $3 million budget cloaked by a veil of technical professionalism and energetic action. Hughes photographs the Australian environments wonderfully, especially during the sparse yet eerily structured night sequences. Red Hill is a tremendously confident movie, forgoing lavish budgeting in favor of skill and a frighteningly intimate mood.
We've seen the rookie against his worst nightmare scenario many times, but Hughes counteracts his generic set-up using decent characterization, memorable set-pieces and a final act twist that actually surprises. The first two thirds of the movie are filled with the sort of stalk and slash situations one might associate with the early works of John Carpenter, as under the cover of darkness Jimmy creepily and stealthily starts disposing of his targets. It's nail biting stuff, enhanced by the grim and almost supernatural prowess of the central villain. With his heavily burnt face (much better prosthetics than those evidenced in last year's A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) Jimmy Conway cuts an imposing figure, his stature increased via some brutal acts of violence. Red Hill is a film that earns its R-rating, Hughes riddling the picture with bullet wounds and bloodshed.
Ryan Kwanten does a credible job as the film's hero, the young TV star bringing ample humanity to his performance. Steve Bisley is unsettlingly gritty as Old Bill, his turn filled with icy malice. Tommy Lewis emits a strong screen presence without uttering any dialogue (the actor speaks only one line during the climax), granting Red Hill a genuinely threatening antagonist. None of the acting is showy or particularly remarkable, but it's robust enough to power the movie.
The finale is gripping, Hughes choosing to use an anarchic and panicky atmosphere to pump up the momentum. Leaving aside a blatantly weird subplot concerning a panther with a hunger for horse (it just disrupts the picture's generally lean sensibility), Red Hill is perfectly paced, Hughes never losing audience interest for a second. It's a glossy and hugely enjoyable movie, perfect for viewers with a hankering for intelligently concocted yet reliably fun cinematic fare. Red Hill is a blast.
The DVD courtesy of Sony looks great, but sadly comes with absolutely no bonus content. It's a real pity, as a commentary would surely have made for intriguing listening.
Red Hill was only given a limited theatrical release last year, a foolish move on Sony's part. With some decent marketing and an emphasis on word of mouth screenings, this thing could've been a real sleeper hit. It's certainly deserving of heftier success than it eventually attained. Despite a lackluster disc, I'm giving Red Hill a firm recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R