Monday 30 May 2011


Can a good, ol' fashioned western actually come from Australia? Apparently so, as the really rather good Red Hill is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

On the first day of his new job as a sheriff's deputy in a small desert town, Shane Cooper (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) gets well and truly thrown in at the deep end. After breaking out of jail, local outlaw Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis) is on his way back into town to take revenge on the Sheriff, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), and those people who put him in jail. When the task of protecting the town falls to rookie cop Shane, he must face off against the deadly Conway in order to protect his heavily pregnant wife and the locals who are in danger.

When the excellent Nick Cave scripted/Australia set The Proposition was released back in 2005, a lot of people started to question whether a good western had to be set in America at all. Let's not forget that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was filmed in Spain by an Italian director, and no-one would ever question its authenticity as a western. Same goes for The Magnificent Seven - definitely a western, but one that's only a few tweaks away from being The Seven Samurai. My opinion is that westerns, just like horror films, are merely another genre of films with certain signifiers and expectations, so who cares where they're set?

And so to the release of Red Hill, a hugely enjoyable, pulpy, Australian western that wears its genre influences on its sleeve. Characters ride around on horseback, a lone gunslinger strides into town looking for revenge and it's up to the new lawman in town to settle things. Adding credence to that are the nostalgic music cues and look of the town which are taken straight from innumerable classic western tales. The main character's even called Shane for chrissakes.

Red Hill is a tad slow to start off with, taking time to introduce all of its characters and settings before it dives head first into its story of vengeance and duty. When word gets out that Jimmy Conway is headed back into town, his police colleagues and the rest of the population start to visibly squirm with fear, leaving the new kid on the block Shane to handle the important things like trying to stop Jimmy from succeeding in his quest before the cavalry arrives. Outside of his role as Sookie Stackhouse's brother Jason in True Blood, I'm not too familiar with leading man Ryan Kwanten's work (I didn't even realise he was Australian before I saw this film), but he's quite good as the town's lone hero, wanting to protect the people he's sworn an oath to as well as think about the family he's about to start with his wife.

As the supposed villain, Jimmy Conway is a great Dead Man's Shoes-type anti-hero who you find yourself rooting for, especially when it becomes increasingly apparent that the townsfolk know more about Jimmy's lust for revenge then they're letting on. Working his way through the locals the same way you'd expect a malevolent demon like Michael Myers or Ghostface to do, he's a silent assassin who doesn't explain his motives (or indeed, anything). Conway undoubtedly looks cool as he takes down the town with little more than his shotgun and a steeley-eyed glare, and with his dramatically scarred face and rain slicker attire, he's the kind of outlaw character Robert Rodriguez wishes he could still come up with.

Yes, it's a story that's been done before in one form or another, but this modern day interpretation has a lot to offer. Fans of westerns should enjoy the respectful homaging the film does, never directly referencing any films, more just appreciating the genre as a whole. For those not immediately taken with westerns, it's still a good, solid revenge thriller that's been well crafted by first time director Patrick Hughes, surely a promising talent to look out for in the future.

If you're in the mood for a healthy dose of vengeance and justice, Red Hill may be just what you need. Much like its central antagonist, the film is the strong, silent type, more reliant on its action than its dialogue; but that doesn't mean it can't still pack one hell of a punch.


Special Features include a commentary by the director Patrick Hughes and star Ryan Kwanten, 24 Days of Adrenaline featurette, storyboard comparisons and the trailer.