9 Dec

Worst first day ever. Red Hill.

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday December 9, 2010 | Reviews

Red Hill ReviewI don’t take in nearly enough genre pictures from Australia. After watching the documentary, Not Quite Hollywood (Review), I vowed to change that since my Aussie exploitation movie diet begins and ends with Mad Max. It never quite took off and my review pile dictated that I prioritize the stuff that people are sending to me but the fire never died. Not too long ago I took in the brutal revenge picture, The Horseman, and was knocked on my ass by the sheer intensity of a movie whose plot I’d seen a thousand times before, notably in the Paul Schrader picture, Hardcore. It was then that it dawned on me that I probably ought to take it easier on movies that I deem to be formulaic. I tend to shit all over movies that reuse frameworks from other movies and ironically lose sight of the fact that that’s how exploitation works. You know? That film institution that I dedicated an entire website to.

To boot, Australia is this perfect blend of The United Kingdom and The United States. Our histories have a lot in common. Both of our nations were settled by the UK’s undesirable cast-offs. Our forefathers unseated and subjected the native people of our respective new worlds to horrific genocide and wholesale theft of the land that they had lived on for a very, very long time. The settlement of the interior of our countries both look like what we contemporaries describe as the wild west and from there, the modernization of our homes seem to run parallel to one another with industry and manufacture growing in similar fashion. It’s no wonder that our genre movies look so much alike and fetishize the same ideas. The differences end in that here in America we can’t develop every inch of land into living and shopping space fast enough while in Australia, the deep interior of the country is left alone since it’s such an incredibly hostile and inhospitable place. There are settlements here and there, largely disconnected from the rest of the nation and they serve as the backdrop for some seriously intense and violent movies since even in the modern age, they’re excellent places to stage a western and that’s pretty much what Red Hill does.

It’s Shane Cooper’s first day as constable in the town of Red Hill. He and his very pregnant wife arrived late and his first day is early the next morning. Red Hill, meanwhile, is a tiny one horse town in the middle of nowhere where the worst thing that happens is a series of horse deaths as a result of a theoretical panther attack. That is, until the news hits that Jimmy Conway has escaped from prison. Conway went up the river in 1995 for the murder of his wife and his escape from the nearby prison almost certainly means returning to Red Hill for revenge against the people who put him away. By the time Conway shows back up, it turns out that he’s a silent aboriginal killing machine and he can’t be stopped. It also turns out that the law of Red Hill are the worst shots in the history of cinema. Cooper, the outsider, seems immune to Conway’s wrath and through his repeated attempts to stop the rampage discovers that there’s something much bigger and much more predictable at work in Red Hill.

Ever seen the original version of Mad Max? Probably, right? The one with the original Australian audio track instead of the dialog dub that sounds American. It was kind of shocking and hearing Mel Gibson speak in his actual voice threw me for a loop. That very same loop occurred watching Red Hill’s star, Ryan Kwanten, better known in the States as the dopey Jason Stackhouse on True Blood, at the front of this picture. Kwanten carries himself with an entirely different presence, which I suppose is what actors do but in the genre spectrum, very few actors ever reach to be more than that character they always play. There isn’t a hint of familiarity with Kwanten, though, and that’s a good thing. Speaking in his native accent, he’s practically unrecognizable and does a great job as the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, tied up in the dirty laundry of the people who’ve been at the center of the film’s conflict. On the opposite end, Tommy Lewis, with his horrifically scarred face as Jimmy Conway, seems to have spent weeks studying Javier Bardem’s turn in the Cohen’s No Country For Old Men. He’s a scarred menace with a shotgun and singularly committed to killing the cops in Red Hill. Nothing stands in his way and the nature of the character takes on an interesting mutation on the way to the endgame.

The plot is nothing we haven’t seen before and though it’s set in modern times the entire production screams Western. Amidst cars and sat-phones are stetsons, dusters and horses. The old guard of Red Hill’s police department are snarling, gritty dudes with lever-action rifles and revolvers accompanied by low-angle shots of boots walking across wood floors to an Ennio Morricone score. While the film occasionally pushes really hard to be recognized as a contemporary western, it never feels like it’s stretching to be one in the way that a lot of revival cinema tends to do. Though, extremely predictable, the conflict and its outcome is supported by a solid cast and supremely bad dudes. Undermining the high notes is a current of red herrings that feel like filler. A subplot about a panther killing local animals pops up here and there and ultimately culminates in the sighting of the panther but this goes nowhere and represents nothing and much of the running time feature’s Kwanten’s Cooper being knocked out and dropped off on the outskirts of town forcing us the endure his long walk back while the mayhem unfolds back in Red Hill. Red Hill keeps its head mostly above the water and delivers a very familiar revenge thriller that only sometimes feels half-baked. Just be relieved that the law in Red Hill are not the law in your town. These guys couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

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