It’s the cardinal rule of the slow-burning B: if you’re going to make the audience wait, you’d better pay off big.
And though he demonstrates considerable talent, not to mention scoring a thumbs-up from former Jason Voorhees Kane Hodder (he called the villain “badass”), writer/director/producer Patrick Hughes’ slasher-tinged Aussie western doesn’t quite deliver at the last.
Beginning leisurely with spooked horses and screaming birds in the Victorian outback, Hughes suggests something has upset the natural order – though we’re a long, long way from finding out what it is.
We’re then introduced to likeable constable Shane Cooper (True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) as he leaves his pregnant wife, Alice (Claire van der Boom), behind for his first day patrolling the sedate streets of Red Hill.
So far, the parochial pace is a pleasant change both for Cooper’s “big-city blow-in” and for those who appreciate the care with which Hughes introduces his characters, notably leathery police chief Old Bill (Steve Bisley – Goose from Mad Max).
If it’s a ploy it’s a clever one, allowing the more outré genre elements to creep up realistically.
Soon, there’s a storm overhead, an escaped Aboriginal murderer (Tom E Lewis) on the loose… and we’re into tense stalk-and-shoot territory. No wonder Hodder approves.
But after this careful build-up, Hughes starts making rookie mistakes: terrible CG intrusions, inexplicable plot longueurs and WTF ? moments that will have some shouting “Just shoot already!” at the screen.
It’s a shame because Red Hill has much to recommend it: some salty performances, a great score that escalates from mournful acoustic C&W to wiry electric guitar with thundering tom-toms, and an unusual willingness to engage with Australia’s ambivalence about the dispossession of its indigenous people.
In short, it’s promising but flawed, and we’ll eat our corked hats if Hughes isn’t on his way to Hollywood soon. Well, not that soon.