The tropes of Westerns are always satisfying. The outlaw is incorrigible. The lawman is incorruptible. Revenge is dealt swiftly. And any disagreement is resolved with a bullet. Red Hill features all of these conventions and puts them in a modern day setting that’s rural enough to maintain the motif. The product is very effective. Granted, most of the film is predictable and the parts that aren’t seem out of place, but for a movie like Red Hill, knowing what’s going to happen only heightens the experience – not detracts from it.
A young deputy sheriff, Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten), moves to a small, rural town with his wife to get away from the stresses of the big city. On his first day on the job, Shane meets with his gruff, no nonsense boss, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), who puts Shane through his paces by assigning him menial tasks. What he thinks is going to be a slow day suddenly escalates to dangerous levels when the town receives word that a local murderer, Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), has escaped from prison. Every man in town knows that Jimmy will be coming back for blood since Old Bill was the one who put him away. Shane suddenly finds himself embroiled in a murky town history that has him questioning both sides and his ability to uphold his own morality.
The three male leads carry the film well and fill their archetypes adequately. Steve Bisley seems to have been made to bark orders and be intimidating. Even his expressions look like they’ve been carved out of sadness and strife. Additionally, watching Ryan Kwanten is very enjoyable and his fresh face and naïve open mindedness makes him eminently likeable, relatable and a great surrogate for the audience within the film. It’s just a shame that his character arc feels more like an angle since his change is pretty abrupt, because he definitely has the acting chops for a little more drama. Ironically, Tommy Lewis steals the show as the hardened convict Jimmy Conway. Lewis is mute through almost the entire film and the effect makes him truly menacing. His silence, coupled with the excellent makeup for his melted face and his character’s amazing tracking skills gives him a kind of inhuman robotic feel that will remind of the first Terminator.
The writing and pace of the film is a little accelerated, but otherwise satisfying. There’s just enough dialogue and interaction to get a basic feel for the characters and the layout of the land before the action and suspense ramps up. It would have been nice to really get to know the characters before the slayings begin so that audiences could have a real vested interest in having Jimmy stopped beyond the simple fact that he’s a “bad guy”. While the majority of the film is full of violence, audiences will also appreciate some of the softer scenes that help break up the blood and guts. Shane’s relationship with his wife is moving and viewers will smile in spite of themselves as Shane tries his best to keep his harrowing day a secret.
For the most part, the main plot and the different failed and successful ruses used by both sides are utterly and completely predictable. Although, that isn’t necessarily bad. Audiences want to know that Old Bill and Jimmy Conway aren’t the one-dimensional characters they seem to be and that justice will ultimately be served. So while it’s obvious which characters will survive and which won’t, thus mitigating some of the suspense in the middle of the film, the predictability only serves to help audiences reach the catharsis they’re looking for at the end of the film. Not everything is predictable, of course. There’s a weird subplot surrounding a possible panther running loose, which may serve as an allegory for something, but the significance won’t be readily apparent.
Overall, Red Hill is a fun time in the theater that will constantly surprise with its innovative scenes and fresh plot. The film doesn’t reinvent the Western genre so much as it adapts it to modern sensibilities. The best aspect of Red Hill, however, is its cast. Even if audiences don’t appreciate Westerns, the fantastic acting is enough to keep viewers’ attention rapt to the end.