It has never been easy to get a film made in this country, and to obtain private financial backing for a film you write, direct and edit seems only to amplify the difficulty. The achievement of Patrick Hughes in his first-time feature is therefore all the more impressive.
When Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) arrives in the High Country town of Red Hill for his new posting as a police officer, he brings with him a heavily pregnant wife and so many boxes of belongings that he can’t find his firearm. He is quickly introduced to a tiny town with a sense of mystery and darkness just below the surface. The news that a convicted murderer who lived in the area has escaped prison means the police and concerned townspeople will form a posse, determined to protect their town from his dreadful revenge.
If Australia is to become known for any particular type of filmmaking, it will most likely be so-called ‘genre films’: films like Wolf Creek and The Proposition have been far more successsful than straightforward dramas or romantic comedies. As a blend of western and revenge thriller, Red Hill nails the tone and atmosphere perfectly.
Red Hill is violent, challenging, unexpectedly witty, but generally unadorned. Hughes acknowledged No Country for Old Men as an inspiration during the Q&A after our screening, and his achievement in creating such a stripped down, almost barren tone is quite remarkable. The only aspect of the film that didn’t quite adhere to his vision is probably the soundtrack: to my ears, the clanging and clashing didn’t quite gel with the otherwise spare production, although the warm applause at MIFF for the sound design suggests I might be in the minority in this regard.
This may be the only minor fault in a film that gets so much right. Hughes’ story is adequate, although one could make an argument that none of the main characters is a fully fleshed out human being. Kwanten is great in the lead, and Steve Bisley reminds the world of his talents with a wicked turn as Old Bill, Shane’s new supervising officer. Tom E. Lewis gets to play the traditional ‘boogeyman’ role and for most of the film he is required to perform without any dialogue whatsoever, meaning that when he does finally speak, his words carry the import Hughes intends.
Shot in Omeo and Benambra, the film looks simply wonderful, and shows off the stunning land of the Victorian High Country brilliantly, even if it is to give the audience the desire never to visit this place of such darkness. Attention is also paid to one of the myths of the region – a story I remember being told by my grandfather with a completely straight face – and the appearance of one of the long-rumoured escapees is a particular delight.
Perhaps most impressive is Hughes’ restraint, and what appears to be single-minded determination to make the film he wanted to make. His characters are players in an epic tragedy, and one can only hope this is the first of many successes for this new local star.Rating: