If there was one movie this year that this writer wanted to be fantastic, it was “Red Hill.” The trailer focused on the strikingly beautiful cinematography, but gave little detail on the plot. For that, it seemed fishy, but those misgivings were swiftly buried by piles and piles of awe. It basically looked like “No Country For Old Men” set in Australia, and while there was no shot in it being anywhere near as brilliant as that, it still held the possibility of being a strong film. Reading the director’s statement was even more promising, as Patrick Hughes seemed passionate not only about his movie, but about movies in general. Seemingly down-to-earth, there was a connection made after reading, maybe even an unspoken friendship, as weird as that sounds. Alas, all this did was instill a vague guilty feeling after the movie, as despite Hughes’s enthusiasm and the fine visual aesthetic, “Red Hill” is a blatantly amateur work.
We are introduced to Shane Cooper (“True Blood” vet Ryan Kwanten) as he gets ready for his first day at the Red Hill Police Station. A born and bred “city boy,” Shane was forced to move after doctors suggested a more remote, quiet area for his pregnant wife Alice (played by Claire Van Der Boom, and we’ll leave you to decide if that’s any goofier than her character name being Alice Cooper), as their first bun in the oven was a miscarriage possibly due to nerves. Unable to find his gun, the protagonist shares a final tender moment with his wife (and also the overly bloated score accompaniment) and sets off to meet the rest of the film’s characters.
The rest of the cast is introduced in what appears to be a TV comedy fashion. Shane finds one of them asleep at the desk, who apologizes profusely and begs him not to tattle. In walks another co-worker, whose cold demeanor is described with the one-liner “marriage troubles.” Eventually the head honcho is introduced, resident bad-ass Old Bill (Steve Bisley, “Mad Max“), and they share the cliché awkward-moment, where vet says something questionable, the other takes it as a joke, and the vet is serious so the first stops laughing. Shouldn’t movie characters be used to this by now?
Before he knows it, Shane is thrust into the most action the town has ever seen, as convicted felon Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis, “The Proposition“) breaks out of prison to exact revenge on the police department that put him away. Mild panic ensues as well as detailed planning, putting each member of the team at various spots throughout town to stop the gunman in his tracks. Once things kick into gear, Shane soon realizes that there’s more to this situation than the local law enforcement is letting on. He then vows to uncover the mystery of Red Hill while trying to stay alive.
“No Country For Old Men” this is not. In fact, it seems to have more in common with slasher films than it does westerns. But not all is lost as just as in our favorite horror films, hopes are held high once Conway booms into town. Maybe that terrible set up will be forgotten, the thriller elements will really kick into gear and there will be a number of tense showdowns? Don’t hold your breath. What’s supposed to be a looming, brooding villain is completely uninteresting and blank. Conway doesn’t possess a dominating presence, failing to carry the film in what should be its most fulfilling moments. The action pieces – in which nearly everyone waits inexplicably long to even try firing at Conway – are equally unexciting, plagued by inconsistent pacing and stick to the most glaring slasher conventions, with the killer varying his methods from simple guns to boomerangs and spears. Scenes not containing the so-called ruthless killer still retain their horror elements, though all to piss-poor degrees. The worst offender involves Shane discovering an old couple in a car, believing they’re dead. When they open their eyes he becomes startled, understandably so, but for some odd-reason there’s a jump sound effect, the ones characteristic of popcorn horror flicks. Was this really supposed to frighten the audience? While minor, its inclusion is questionable, and doesn’t seem anything more than down right silly.
Maybe the film would work if it didn’t take itself so seriously, if it realized that it was sticking a little too closely to conventions and had some fun with them. The script suffers from this overly earnest mentality, wanting every single moment to be so substantial and meaty. Even the smallest dialogues or bits are restricted to eventual payoff/wad shooting, rather than being a part of the world they inhabit. Some are typical: of course, Shane isn’t going to spend the entire movie with a fear of firing a gun; his eventual firing and the moment it comes is quite obvious and expected. However, take for instance a bullshit job that Shane is sent on before Conway comes into the picture. An old man, in front of one of his torn-open cows, surmises that a panther had attacked his livestock much to everyone else’s doubt. Well, guess what CGI abomination shows up in the third act at precisely the most meaningful time he can? This early planting and injection of faux-deepness is almost impossible to not be appalled by, as it’s too oppressive and terribly cornball.
Really, the only thing going for it is the cinematography and general art design, which give the area an appropriately cold atmosphere. It’s a shame Hughes never finds the proper tone to run with, as it really could’ve been the thrilling modern-day Western that he wanted it to be. Instead it suffers from hackneyed sentimentality, misfired direction, weak casting, and an overbearing sore which at times seems like a sister-arrangement to “Last Action Hero.” A blatant first film, “>Red Hill” is severely unrefined, and a complete chore to sit through. [D+]
Here’s that trailer we were talking about.