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Red Hill

(2010) ** 1/2 R
95 min. Strand Releasing. Director: Patrick Hughes. Cast: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis, Kevin Harrington, Claire van der Boom.

/content/films/3937/1.jpgIn Red Hill, the titular remote backwater comes under siege from forces of nature that include a hell of a storm and a seemingly unstoppable Aboriginal prison escapee. The narrative results play a bit like Raising Arizona retold in the tone of Blood Simple: writer-director Patrick Hughes' debut film has a droll sense of humor and a human threat that's as archetypally worrisome as the Coens' Leonard Smalls or Anton Chigurh. But Hughes is also telling a quintessential Western tale of the wages of imperial sin, of collective communal guilt forced to face a native avenging angel.

Ryan Kwanten of True Blood plays Shane Cooper, a rookie cop forced to give up his big-city assignment in order to give his pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) the piece, quiet, and clean living the quiet frontier town of Red Hill would seem to promise. Shane's first day on the job begins badly as he can't find his service pistol; naturally, the deeply entrenched locals of the Red Hill sheriff's office welcome Shane with skepticism and a determination to put him in his place. All bets are off when the news breaks that horribly disfigured criminal Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has busted loose. Stricken with fear, Shane's colleagues and the quickly gathered posse of locals are certain Conway is on his way to Red Hill, apparently with an axe to grind. Suddenly, Shane's innocence begins to look like an advantage: though inexperienced, he has no bad blood with the man determined to paint Red Hill red.

Hughes wastes no time in mashing up his outback Western with the horror genre: essentially Red Hill is a slasher film with a sociopolitical subtext that explains the killer's insatiable desire for civic-minded revenge. While the backstory doesn't succeed in making the film terribly deep, it does add texture to what's otherwise a rather familiar genre exercise. Perhaps more importantly, Hughes shows chops in setting a mood and carrying out the grisly business of shotgun showdowns and torturous mano a mano sessions; he also demonstrates skill in laying out the geography of the Red Hill sprawl and photographing it with the kind of epic iconography associated with the Western genre. The supporting cast delineates distinctive characters proper to the place (including Lewis' fearsome Conway), and Kwanten makes a likeable, nicely resonant lead that audiences will immediately latch on to as a partner in wading through the tension (and blood) all the way to the soul-stirring resolution of the mystery of Conway's motivation.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 1/31/2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Having seen Red Hill on the big screen, I can testify that Sony's hi-def transfer of the film is spot-on in its representation of the film's down and dirty imagery. Grain is a bit heavier than most newly minted films, but that's true to the source, and detail and texture are outstanding. Colors are bold, and the black level strong, though the nighttime scenes can feel a bit oppressive to the otherwise impressive detail. Though intentionally rough, the Blu-ray transfer remains a rather handsome and stylish filmic image that stands head and shoulders above standard def video. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix needs no excuses: it's highly detailed in creating a realistic sense of place as well as more evocative mood effects through sound and music. Precision separation makes for a dynamic and always engaging aural experience, and the gunfire will wake the neighbors.

Unfortunately, that's all there is to say about this disc, as Sony hasn't rounded up any bonus features. Still, it's nice to see this smaller title—which most lost in the 2010 shuffle—get the Blu-ray treatment.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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