Wednesday 21 March 2018

Movies: Red Hill ***

(Club, IFI)

Paul Whitington

Young Australian writer/director Patrick Hughes is clearly a lover of westerns, and you'll find echoes of everyone from John Ford to Sergio Leone in Red Hill.

Hughes, though, refers to the great westerns knowingly, and throws in a dash of slasher horror for good measure, creating a brisk and entertaining genre movie that never quite manages to become more than a sum of its parts.

Former Home and Away star Ryan Kwanten plays a baby-faced young police constable called Shane Cooper who relocates from the big city to the one-horse town of Red Hill so that his anxious wife can give birth to their first child in peace. Instead of a rural idyll, however, Cooper finds a tense and rather unfriendly town presided over by a gruff old bully of a sheriff called Old Bill (Steve Bisley). Bill and his deputies make fun of Cooper, who has somehow mislaid his service revolver, but when news breaks of an escape at a nearby prison they have bigger things to worry about.

An aboriginal man from the neighbourhood called Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) is on the loose, and Bill is convinced he'll return to Red Hill to wreck the place. Jimmy was convicted of murdering his wife, but no one will tell poor Cooper any more than that, and when Conway gallops into town the young deputy will be directly in the line of fire.

It's all very High Noon, and Patrick Hughes does a fine job of drawing out the tension -- and his not especially complex storyline. The addition of a disfigured villain who is not prone to conversation makes the film feel a bit like Friday the 13th -- The Western, but none of this detracts from its enjoyment, and Mr Hughes has an eye for composition that makes Red Hill a little more than merely a derivative in-joke.

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