Red Hill (2010)

First published by Little White Lies

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Once a flourishing outback community, Red Hill is an all-white island of outmoded Australian colonial values, marooned somewhere between the prehistoric past (see the tacky Aboriginal diorama in the town’s information centre) and an urbanised modernity.

Most of the population has long since drifted away, but gun-shy cop Shane (Ryan Kwanten) is a rare new arrival ““ a ‘blow in from the Big Smoke’ looking for a quiet life with his pregnant wife. On Shane’s first day, two deadly threats ““ a native tracker imprisoned for murder years before, and a cryptid big cat ““ will visit the town.

As police captain – heh – Old Bill (Steve Bisley) and his armed posse try to bury the town’s shameful past, Shane can finally stand up in his saddle and become the law ““ if he survives the night without a car, a gun, or a hope in hell.

Writer/director Patrick Hughes feature debut transplants the tropes of the oater genre (a horseback hero named Shane, guitar-and-horns soundtrack, street shootouts and a revenant avenger) to the shifting ideological landscape of Victoria’s High Country, while also slyly importing the paradigm of America’s revolutionary civil rights movement by having the efforts of a corrupt constabulary disrupted by two “˜black panthers’ ““ one metaphorical, the other very literal.

As the burn-scarred vengeance-seeker Jim Conway, Tom E. Lewis is in effect reprising his title role from The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith ““ yet while Hughes reopens all the old wounds of social injustice exposed by that earlier film, he also offers a vision of contemporary Australia pregnant with the possibilities of a more just future, wherein old-world values of insularity and racism might be replaced by an enlightened equality and openness.

So this is Birth of a Nation down under with a twist ““ and enough genre thrills and dark humour to keep anyone entertained.

Anticipation: A modern-day The Proposition?

Enjoyment: With a wild black cat on the loose!

In Retrospect: Deftly balances its allegory of a nation’s colonial shame with rootin’ tootin’ entertainment.

Anton Bitel