Red Hill is both a genre homage and an imitation, taking the long-standing logistics of the iconic western and infusing it with modern-day cinematic and narrative devices in a clever, intriguing, and unprecedented way.
The film centers on Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten), a police officer who moves to the middle of nowhere with his pregnant wife to escape the stresses of city life. On his first day on the local force he has to contend with his hostile boss Old Bill (Steve Bisley) and the imminent arrival of a very dangerous escaped convict (Tommy Lewis).
Patrick Hughes excels in his direction and, with the assistance of cinematographer Tim Hudson’s dreary lighting and clever camera angles, demonstrates an uncomfortably intrinsic ability to exploit and unnerve his viewers, particularly in the way he fleeces suspense out of the most elementary of happenings.
He elicits hearty performances from the entire cast, but most superby from the undeniably likeable Kwanten and acrimonious Bisley. Kwanten, in particular, is simply fantastic as Shane. Realistic, charismatic, and more than capable of taking on a lead role, Kwanten instils a wonderfully cool and collected air to Shane that makes him ever more matter-of-fact yet eerily frightening at the same time.
It’s due to uneven writing and a air of predictability, however, that the film stumbles. It starts out as an extremely tense, exciting and gritty revenge thriller but, through many foolish character choices and implausible narrative crossroads, slowly unravels into a generic, sometimes nonsensical, and all-too familiar blood bath.
While not too detrimental to the overall experience, especially since the coarse atmospherics and plastering of archetypal revenge western conventions gel surprisingly well together, it does prevent the film from being wholly logical, tonally sound and entirely convincing.
Nevertheless, Red Hill still manages to be an insanely fun, stunningly shot, brilliantly acted, and all together dazzling directorial debut. Hughes is a writer/director to keep your eye on.