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In his intro at Fantastic Fest, cool cat director Patrick Hughes told the crowd how he mortgaged his house to make this film and ya know what, after seeing it, bro, it was worth it. Respect! For a first feature, RED HILL was pretty damn impressive, a sturdy start to what I expect to me a promising career for Senor Hughes. I can totally understand why True Blood star Ryan Kwanten aka Jason Stackhouse would jump on board after reading the script, even though the project had little dough attached to it at the time.
RED HILL was a genre buffet if I've ever seen one as it sported thriller, drama, mystery, revenge, action and most of all Western elements. Yup this was the Old West set in a modern day setting and gunned out Ozzie style. There's was a magic for me in gawking at our hero hop on a horse to go do his police rounds amidst the awe inspiring yet dread filled Australian landscape. Now that I think of it, I envied him, would love to be in a Western one day, will make it happen, but hey that's my own shit, lets move on. The Western is a genre filled to the brim with iconic imagery, that in the rights hands, can come off as f*cking art in motion. Hughes were those right hands. RED HILL had me right off the bat with its likable and layered lead character, its astounding cinematography and its gripping set up and it then took me on a old fashioned and brutal ride once the shite hit the shite. Although the story was nothing original within the Western sub genre, Hughes went about it in such a unique and gritty fashion that it didn't matter. I was eating this one up and the fanboy smile was carved in deep.
Moreover the movie rocked out thick tension, moments of gnarly dark humor (that exchange between Jimmy and that cop was gold), high octane shoot outs and even a couple of narrative Aces up its sleeve that took me aback when whipped out. And talk about a stand out cast! Ryan Kwanten evoked my sympathy via his earnest yet damaged show, Steve Bisco commanded the screen as the town's main lawman Old Bill while Tommy Lewis made for a hypnotizing presence as the silent but deadly burned face villain Jimmy Conway. Now that's a bad guy to reckon with! Topple on top of that an able supporting cast, some slick visual touches that hit the spot (loved the shots of lightning breaking the sky over the mountains) and a Western-ish score that was poetry to my ears and you get a tight little indie that did the doo with heart and balls.
On the flip-side of the spur, was it me of the gunshots in the film just not sound right? Almost felt like they used in-camera sound instead of adding powerful gunshot sounds in Post. That diminished the impact of some of the action sequences a tad. UPDATE: Director Patrick Hughes just e-mailed me to let me know that the reason the gunshots sounded bad at the Fantastic Fest screening was due to the fact that they screened the movie off a DigiBeta-SP tape (not ideal for audio/visual quality). He went up to the projectionist three times during the screening to try and fix the audio issues but nothing seemed to improve the quality. All that to say, I guess I'll have to see this mofo again! I gotta see it RIGHT!
I also wished the film had more gore in its bucket... further bullet squibs if you will, but maybe that was me being greedy. It would've given some of the dryer kills that extra edge. The pacing was an issue at a certain point as well. The film started to lag at about the middle mark. It felt like the story was stalling, filling up screen-time before dropping the hammer on its last chapter. Lastly, I kept hoping that they would have done more with the wife subplot, although resulting in one fairly engaging scene, other than that, it was fairly pointless. But maybe that was the point!
On the whole though RED HILL had enough greatness in its barrel to make me forgive its muck ups and buy it a whiskey. Saddle up pilgrim and take this ride!