2010 may yet prove to be the year that Australian filmmakers embraced genre; Bran Nue Dae (musical) and the recently released The Loved Ones (teen horror) to name but two examples. No doubt it's an (understandable) attempt to not only entertain an audience but to attract them to Australian films in the first place. Dae certainly succeeded with $7m+ at the local box office; The Loved Ones, though only in cinemas a month, is floundering.
Red Hill, the debut feature for Patrick Hughes, is also a genre film – a Western – one even more identifiably American than teen horror. But what it possesses which The Loved Ones does not – and could ultimately prove the difference between finding an audience and box office oblivion – is a star.
That would be Ryan Kwanten, one-time Home and Away alumni now international hearthrob thanks to his serio-comic role in HBO's vampire series, True Blood, where he makes a habit of appearing in various states of undress. Much to the chagrin of the ladies (and a fair few men, I'd suspect), Kwanten keep his clothes on throughout Red Hill, though he does don a uniform (if you like that kind of thing).
He's Constable Shane Cooper, newly stationed in the country town of Red Hill where he and his wife (Claire van der Boom) have moved for a quieter life and smoother pregnancy. But Cooper isn't exactly greeted with country hospitality by his superior, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), on his first day.
And then the shit hits the fan when William Conway (Tom E. Lewis), former Red Hill resident jailed for the murder of his wife, breaks out of prison and makes his way back to his home town to inflict revenge on those who sent him down. Or perhaps there is more to it than that, given the rather over-the-top call-to-arms of every local male response this news elicits.
That said, I think I would have enjoyed Red Hill more – and I did enjoy it – if Hughes, who also wrote, produced and edited the film, had exercised a little more consistency in tone, committing to a straight-up Western thriller. But as a first time filmmaker, I suspect Hughes is eager to include as much of his ideas as possible: “Here's what I can do!”
One such inclusion, a subplot involving a panther, a local Red Hill legend, and its cameo appearance, is superfluous to Red Hill's storyline. Unless of course it is intended as an analogy – that man is a beast and will kill to survive? – in which case it's a little clumsy and, if related to Conway, just a tad racist.
That quibble aside, Red Hill marks a competent debut for a new Australian film talent. The film has already been well-received at international festivals, and received positive reviews from the likes of The New York Times. Australian audiences are likely to enjoy it too, if they make that initial Kwanten leap and buy a ticket.