“Red Hill” is a movie smoothie: a whole bunch of different movies blended together in one mixture that combines the tropes of several genres. Take a couple parts American Western, throw in a handful of 80s slasher film, a dash of 70s revenge and vigilante movies, and sprinkle in some racial injustice as the crunchy granola social commentary on top. In movies like this, as with smoothies, it’s all about the recipe: balancing out all the ingredients so they work in harmony and your concoction isn’t too sweet or gritty. For the most part, “Red Hill” goes down smooth, though there are a few chunky bits that could have used an extra pulse through the blender.
The setting and setup are pure Western, albeit one set in the high country of modern Australia rather than nineteenth century United States. Even the hero’s name, Shane Cooper, comes from the West, obviously inspired by the movie “Shane” and actor Gary Cooper, whose most famous Western, “High Noon” bears certain similarities to “Red Hill.” We meet Cooper at his first day on the job as a member of the Red Hill police force. His wife is pregnant, and after a previous miscarriage, doctors told Shane to move his family out of the city and into the country, where things are quiet and peaceful. Bad idea, since just as he’s introduced around the Red Hill police station, news reports on television warn about an explosion at a nearby prison and the escape of convicted murderer Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis). Naturally, Jimmy makes his way to Red Hill, and it’s up to Shane, the grizzled town sheriff (Steve Bisley), and a good old fashion posse to catch him.
At that point, “Red Hill” switches from a Western-tinged police procedural to a Western-set serial killer movie. Though he shares a name with Robert De Niro’s character in “Goodfellas” and a wardrobe with Clint Eastwood, Jimmy shares a hunting technique with Michael Myers: stoic, silent, merciless, super pissed off, and really good at moving around without ever being seen. This middle chunk, where Shane struggles to survive (mostly off-screen) as Jimmy stalks his prey, is “Red Hill”‘s weakest. It’s repetitive too, as Jimmy brutally murders one middle-aged white dude after another in exactly the same fashion: sneaking up on them, shooting them with his shotgun, pumping his shotgun menacingly, following them as they crawl away injured, letting them beg for their life, and then killing them anyway. Thematically, these scenes certainly have their place, but there’s not nearly enough variety to the slaughter or enough urgency to Lewis’ performance. Sticking a tattered William Shatner mask on a silent murderer creates this air of mystery and menace. As a sort of slasher without a mask, Jimmy just looks glum and kind of bored. He’s waited almost a decade for this night, but it’s like his mind is somewhere else.
Things recover, though, in the film’s final act, when the Jimmy’s (admittedly predictable) secrets are revealed during a suspenseful series of chases and standoffs. After spending most of the second act off-screen, Kwanten morphs into a believable Western lawman, and director Patrick Hughes peppers the climax with a series of striking, iconic visuals — one man on horseback silhouetted against a stormy sky, another standing in front of an enormous fire, his rifle resting on his hip — that lend the finale an epic feel. Suddenly this isn’t just a movie about homages to other movies. It’s a story about a country trying to sweep the dirtiest bits of his history under the rug (or, in this case, burn it away). You may question a few of Hughes’ ingredient choices, but you can’t deny the taste “Red Hill” leaves in your mouth: sharp, peppery, and wonderfully bitter.