When police officer Shane Cooper (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten) relocates with his pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) to the small town of Red Hill for some quiet country life, well, this is a Western, so we all know that's not going to happen. Indeed on his very first shift, Shane barely gets through copping flack from is new boss Old Bill (Steve Bisley), before the proverbial scheisse hits the ceiling fan and Shane gets to learn country law the hard way. The daring jailbreak of erstwhile Red Hill resident Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has the entire town spooked, and for good reason; Conway's out for blood and there's seemingly no stopping him.
As the writer, producer, director and editor, you've got to be impressed by Hughes' tenacity (and versatility!) in bringing this story to the screen. His revisioning of generic conventions for the modern day are handled with a tongue-in-cheek humour that sees Shane forced to ride, awkwardly, out on horseback. So too is Hughes unafraid to play up to the Western, with wonderfully hammy hero shots of Conway's brutal antics. For the most part the performances also manage to walk this line, with Bisley at his grisly best, Kwanten proving himself an impressive lead and the wryly-reflexive casting of Lewis harking back to The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.
Unfortunately, a few confounding edits, a slight inconsistency in tone, and a frankly ridiculous 'mysterious beast' subplot do manage to distract from Red Hill's manifold strengths. It may be enough to pull you out of the film, but then again, at 96 minutes, Hughes is careful not to overstay his welcome. Red Hill might be a bit of a mixed bag, but as a striking introduction to Patrick Hughes and a big screen Ryan Kwanten, it’s certainly an exciting new frontier for Australian cinema.