Red Hill

The first feature film from writer/director/producer/editor, Patrick Hughes, Red Hill is a melding of American western and American slasher horror recast to the Australian outback (does that makes this a ‘meat pie western’?) Taking a much lighter tone than John Hillcoat's hefty take on the western (The Proposition), Hughes imbues his film with a healthy foundation of humour and follows the more traditional western narrative of a vengeful lone gunslinger wreaking havoc on the corrupt lawmen of a small backwater town. Hughes could so easily have created another tired analogy of the white guy's oppression of the black guy but Red Hill admirably avoids such preachiness. Sure, there is a serious moral undertone to the film pertaining to racism, but the narrative is not a slave to it.

There are multiple logical flaws scattered throughout the film but this is nitpicking as it aligns with its paranormal slasher element that so obviously permeates the film. Red Hill doesn't ask to be taken seriously and nor should we, rather we should sit back and enjoy the ride and appreciate its underlying subtle humour, its skewed western caricatures and overt cartoon violence.

Veteran Aboriginal actor, Tom Lewis is a suitably menacing villain; part Leatherface, part Jimmy Blacksmith (a part he made his own in Fred Schepisi's 1978 film), part anti-Eastwood lone gunslinger - silent, slow moving, hideously scarred both physically and emotionally. (A Wolf Creek western, perhaps? It is executively produced by Greg McLean after all.) When Lewis utters his single line of dialogue, it's a good one that carries significant emotional weight, given all the more poignance by the character's deadly silence throughout the film.

Steve Bisley is great, delivering a character every bit as iconic as the Goose from Mad Max. Ryan Kwanten is strangely inconsequential as the films hero (spending most of his time being dragged from town and then trekking back to it - one of the many subtly humorous elements of the film) but he doesn't embarrass himself. The production is also strangely devoid of women. Claire van der Boom's brief interlude does, however, break up the carnage and silliness with some welcome heart-warming humanity.

Patrick Hughes has achieved something seemingly intangible with Red Hill. His creation has the look of an independent Aussie film with the spanning vista of a classic western. It is at once a small movie and a big movie nicely realised right down to the magnificently ambiguous scale of its final shot of a panther perched upon a rocky outcrop (or is that a colossal panther astride a mountain range - it's hard to tell). He has created a movie about indigenous disadvantage that is not overtly moralistic and has turned the traditional western on its head. Good things will come from Hughes in the future.
Stuart Jamieson

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