When Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) signs up as the constable in the sleepy outback town of Red Hill,he misplaces his handgun on his first day—never a good sign.

Gun or no gun, by the end of this harrowing Western set in the Australian countryside, Cooper has worked his way through more murder and mayhem than most cops see in a lifetime.

He begins his workday by investigating the death of a local rancher’s horse. That’s followed by an encounter with a  hideously scarred fugitive (Jimmy Conway, played by Tommy Lewis) who is determined to kill everybody in Red Hill.

Red Hill is an extremely violent suspense picture, so tightly wrapped and smartly edited that it borders on being a horror film. Kwanten, who we know as Sookie Stackhouse’s brother Jason in the HBO series True Blood, looks and acts like a young Audie Murphy. Lewis, as the half-aborigine Conway, projects the kind of menace that Javier Bardem brought to No Country for Old Men. The difference is that, unlike Anton Chigurh, Conway has only one line in the entire film.

First-time director and writer Patrick Hughes has done a terrific job; it’s a measure of his success that Red Hill, an independent Australian movie with a largely unknown cast, was released theatrically by Sony in November before it goes on the DVD shelves at the end of January. It’s just too bad so few drive-ins are left in America, because Red Hill is tailor made for one.

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