On Saturday night I went to watch the Australian HIFF feature film Red Hill. Before I left the house I decided not to bring my bag or camera because I was just going to watch the movie and come home afterward. That was such an utterly stupid move on my part and I was kicking myself the whole night. Why? Three seats in front of me sat the star of the movie, Ryan Kwanten. He’s also in the HBO series True Blood, which is apparently about hedonistic vampires who don’t sparkle (I’ve never seen it). Even if he weren’t in True Blood, he’s definitely an important person from the movie (Chuck Boller introduced him). So yeah, I missed out on taking what probably would have been an awesome picture to add to this post because I didn’t want to be bulked down with stuff.
Anyways, back to the movie. Spoiler alert.
To put it as mildly as possible, Red Hill is about police constable Shane Cooper’s first day on the job. Yeah, that ought to work as a summary. Oh, you want it a little less mild? Ok. Red Hill is about police constable Shane Cooper’s first day on the job when ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Is that better? Yeah. You see, an escaped convict, Jimmy Conway, decides Red Hill would be a fantastic place to have some crumpets and tea, except that his crumpets and tea are actually the blood and tears of those he brutally murders with bullets to the face from point blank range. Shane gets involved in this because, well, he’s a police officer, and he’s trying to do his job of stopping homicidal maniacs from killing people.
The convict Conway is shown to be very good at killing those he wants dead. He hunts his targets and kills with seemingly no hesitation or remorse. His shots are deliberate and you just know that he’s going to succeed in killing the guy that he’s stalking. The movie does a good job of letting tension mount, and scores well on the “edge-of-your-seatness meter”, thanks in part (or maybe in whole) to the fantastic sound. The first time a gun was fired in the movie I nearly jumped in my seat, but cooly maintained my composure because I’ve heard gunshots bef…OK, I almost screamed like a little girl. The gun was loud and mean, and it really sounded like being on the receiving end of a shotgun blast. Conway’s ruthlessness as he kills people begging and pleading for their lives makes you dread him, and the actors do a fantastic job of relaying that fear and emotion.
Later on in the film we learn that Conway is gunning for only certain people in Red Hill: the members of the posse that raped and murdered his wife, then blamed him for it. He’s after one thing: revenge, and he’s not going to stop until he gets it. In fact, the only person NOT trying to kill Conway to save their own rear is Shane, who has no prior history with the revenge-minded convict. Shane is only trying to do his job, and this element allows the movie to give the death and chaos a purpose.
Unfortunately, the film’s presentation of Conway was sub-par. I came to believe that Conway was succeeding only out of the sheer incompetence of the people he was killing, assisted by some blatant and obvious cloak of immortality endowed on him by the filmmakers. For example, in one scene Conway slowly walks towards a room where a man is hiding. Both men are armed. The convict knows the man is there. The man knows the convict is there. Instead of Conway going to the man and killing him as a cold blooded ruthless killer would do, he turns his back to him, takes what seems like five minutes putting coins into a jukebox, and starts playing a rock song. During the whole time, the man is staring at him, holding a shotgun, and doesn’t do a single thing. Instead, he pretty much lets Conway turn around and shoot him. The guy gets killed because of his own incompetence, not because of some stone cold scary killer. Also, it just doesn’t fit with the whole scary killer thing Conway has going. If you were on a quest to avenge your wife’s brutal rape and murder, would you turn around and play songs on the jukebox when there are people in the room to kill?
This wasn’t even the worst offender. In another scene, a guy drives a car and smashes into Conway at a decent speed. We see Conway’s body flip over the car – a sign that it was definitely a brutal hit. The driver is hurt in the crash and stumbles out of the car, where Conway is standing 10 meters away, completely unharmed. I was about to roll my eyes at this because it was just unbelievable, but what followed made me do a facepalm. As the guy begs for his life (they all do), he pulls a revolver and fires six shots at Conway at point blank range…and misses every single shot. He then proceeds to start begging again. OK, I wasn’t really suspending my disbelief anymore because of prior issues, but this scene just completely brought my disbelief back in full force. Really? I couldn’t tell whether the guy was utterly incompetent, or whether Conway was immortal. I know that scene was probably intended to be funny so that the audience could rest their nerves a little, but it didn’t work because the whole situation had, by that point, become almost silly. That’s not something a thriller should do.
The film also failed in making me feel empathy towards Conway or approve of his quest for revenge, due to his highly inconsistent presentation. For most of the film it is drilled into our heads that Conway is a stone cold killer. We’re supposed to hate the guy as he ruthlessly murders people, whom we initially believe to be innocent, begging for their lives. Then, at the very end of the movie, we are told he is on a quest for revenge for what they did to his wife. The implication is that we are supposed to feel empathy towards him and approve of his quest for revenge. I didn’t feel it. It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for someone who just brutally killed a half dozen people with only some minor foreshadowing as an explanation. I like a good revenge story as much as the next guy, but this one didn’t do a good job of making me convert – something a revenge story of this type is required to succeed in.
Some remaining niggles included the fact that Shane, despite bleeding several gallons of blood, still managed to do physically laborious things, and how, despite the town being what seemed a block long, everyone manages to get split up and killed off one by one. Also, it seemed that as the movie got into its later stages, I was more scared/tense awaiting the loud noise of the gunshot than the actual situation in the movie. I guess little things like that start to bother you when a film loses your suspension of disbelief.
Overall, what did I think of the movie? Despite some nagging issues, I enjoyed watching Red Hill and there’s no doubt I would enjoy watching it again. Problems held it back from being a great film, but overall it was a decent feature. Maybe next time, knowing what I know now about Conway, I will view the character, and subsequently the movie, in a different light.