Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Written by:Patrick Hughes
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tommy Lewis, Claire van der Boom, Christopher Davis, Kevin Harrington
Released: November 25, 2010
Grade: B+

The first day of a new job can be pretty scary.  You’re never quite sure what the work is going to be like and whether you’ll get along with the other employees.  Those thoughts are certainly going through the mind of Officer Shane Cooper (Kwanten) as he steps through the front door of the Red Hill police station.  He gave up his job in the city and moved to this small country town (with a population of just over 100) for the benefit of his pregnant wife.

After a routine call out, Shane returns to the police station to find that hell has broken loose.  A convicted murderer named Jimmy Conway (Lewis) has escaped from a prison near Melbourne and is en route to Red Hill.  Jimmy’s motivation is pure revenge.  He wants to get those responsible for his incarceration more than 15 years ago.

Leading the defence of Red Hill is the town’s dictatorial police chief.  He’s known to everyone as Old Bill (Bisley) and I’d hate to get on his bad side.  There’s a great sequence early in the film where he meets Shane for the first time.  To describe Old Bill as “domineering” would be an understatement.  This guy feeds off power and control.

Over the next 24 hours, young Shane Cooper will be put through the wringer.  He will be left bloodied, bruised and tortured.  I used the term “scary” before but I could think of much stronger adjectives to describe his first day.  I won’t reveal too much more about the plot but suffice to say that the body count is high.  The population of Red Hill will be greatly reduced by film’s end.

Red Hill is an impressive debut feature from writer-director Patrick Hughes.  He’d tried numerous times to get a film off the ground without success.  In the end, he took inspiration from his favourite filmmakers and developed a “let’s go out there and make it” attitude.  He wrote the script, mortgaged his house and then shot it over 4 weeks in country Victoria.

The gamble paid off.  The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival back in February 2010 and received some positive reviews.  It has now been picked up for distribution in many countries around the world (including the USA).  It’s great to see another talented Australian filmmaker getting his start.

As for my thoughts on Red Hill, I’m describing it as a film of two halves.  The first hour is very strong.  I loved the interaction between Ryan Kwanten and Steve Bisley.  The casting of Kwanten will help boost the film’s box-office (given his notoriety from the TV series True Blood) but it also highlights his capability as an actor.  His performance here helped grab the attention of acclaimed director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) who has cast Kwanten in his next film.

Another impressive attribute of Red Hill is its cinematography.  From its wide panoramic vistas to its tight close ups, Hughes has created a suspenseful setting.  He didn’t make it easy on himself though.  Much of the movie was shot at night in freezing temperatures – a challenging hurdle for any budding filmmaker.

The film’s weaknesses are exposed in its second half.  I thought it became too much of a “Hollywood-style” action film in the later stages.  It’s hard to believe that Jimmy Conway was able to evade his pursuers for so long.  There’s one scene where he shoots at Shane but then decides to let him live a few minutes later.  It didn’t add up.  The dialogue also gets a little cheesy (some lines are cringe worthy) and I’m still confused about the relevance of the mysterious panther.

I’ve often been critical of the Australian film industry but I’m proud to say that 2010 has been a diverse year.  We’ve covered most genres and it’s nice to see us making films that will reach out to a wider audience (such as Daybreakers and Tomorrow, When The War Began).  I’m confident that there’s decent sized audience for a film like Red Hill.  Hopefully they find it.

You can read my interview with star Ryan Kwanten and director Patrick Hughes by clicking here.