Red Hill is, in many ways, a very assured piece of pulp filmmaking. Hughs is totally in control of his tone and the result is a strong realisation of a throwback, modern day comic book which understands its audience is hip to the conventions, and thus is happy to give a wink and a nod every now and then, but is also keen to deliver lurid thrills and spills. (Not too lurid though. It doesn't set out to shock: this is strictly entertainment and it has to be sold at the newsagent after all.)
Unfortunately it tries to marry this pulp sensibility to some very real issues and in doing so proves that you really can't have your cake and eat it too. The convention which requires Kwanten's character be a man alone in a small town with a dirty secret also turns its entire (and I do mean entire) onscreen male population into a bunch of racist thugs, leaving the city boy as the only decent man. Granted it's not quite as simple as that: the film does briefly raise the tension between rural development and respect for culture and the environment. However the characters don't feel this tension - they know what they want and they're going to get what they want in as lurid a manner as possible.
Similarly its sympathy for Indigenous Australia is built on broad cliches, including that of the noble savage. On one hand there are moments in the film which seem to poke fun at the stereotype, as when Lewis' character pauses to use the jukebox or when he stops by the tourist office and sees its appropriated display. But his near absolute silence is more than a little troubling and by the time he's raided the tourist display and is killing his foes with traditional weapons ( I know, I know it's so the killings are silent but seriously a spear and a boomerang?) it's clear that the filmmakers put little effort into making him something other than yet another stereotyped Aboriginal victim. The less said about the muddied symbolism of the panther the better (I initially thought it was a symbol of a cruel, foreign transplant but that last shot seems to indicate it's a manifestation of the noble, misunderstood savage.)
Unfortunately the serviceable dialogue suggests that, while Hughs is gifted with his images, this is likely to be as good as he'll get when working from his own scripts. Still, it is possible that next time out he might jettison the ham-fisted social commentary and just go for pure, pulp pleasure.