King of the Hill - Movie

Friday, 02 October 2009 08:47

Spain has of late been making a name for itself through the release of taut, effective low budget thriller and horror films. “King of the Hill” follows in the footsteps of “[Rec]” and “Fermat’s Room”, this time presenting us with its take on the outdoors hunter/hunted genre reminiscent of “Deliverance” and “Southern Comfort”.

Gonzalo López-Gallego’s movie stars Leonardo Sbaraglia as Quim (pronounced “Keem”), a man in a bit of an emotional nadir following a recent break-up with his girlfriend. Pulling into a petrol station whilst on a road to nowhere, events in Quim’s life suddenly take a strange turn when he finds himself engaged in a brief but very heated sexual act with a sultry woman, someone he had witnessed stealing from the garage only moments earlier. The lady then makes off with his wallet, but bizarrely only after having paid for his petrol!

King of the Hill - Movie DVD

Shortly after rejoining the road, Quim spies a figure on a rocky outcrop, hears the crack of a gun and then a sniper’s bullet smashes into his car. As he exits his vehicle to examine the damage, another figure appears on the horizon with a shotgun and hunting dog. Quim takes a shot to the leg and flees the scene in a wave of confused panic.

Soon after, having had to leave his wrecked car behind, he runs into the woman from the gas station again; her car has also been shot-up, and together they go on the run into the local forest, trying to put as much distance between themselves and their unknown hunters as possible.

We learn that the lady’s name is Bea (played by María Valverde), though she is not very forthcoming about any other details of her identify or life. In this life or death scenario, can Quim trust her when he already knows she is a thief? Who are their pursuers, and what is their motivation for targeting Quim and Bea? Can our hero and heroine get help from the authorities when they are stranded in the middle of nowhere (and the mobile signal is negligible, of course!), or get the upper hand over their pursuers through their own presence of mind?

It is a very simple premise, but the move comes together brilliantly. Sbaraglia convinces us that Quim is an every-day Joe, someone who has just been dumped in an irrational and utterly terrifying predicament, and spends most of the film’s 81 minutes alternating between the metaphorical frying pan and fire. He and Bea are completely at the mercy of seemingly cold and heartless killers, and have little option but to keep on moving, hoping to come across some semblance of civilisation before it is too late.

Given the choice of fight or flight, they unquestioningly go for the latter, especially given the deadly accuracy and range of the sniper, and the unwavering scent-tracking of the dog on their trail. Valverde’s Bea is a fascinating character, at once smoulderingly sexy, devious and frequently emotionally unreadable. Like Quim, the audience do not know if they should get behind her; he however has little choice but to tag along with her, at least until his situation improves.

It is not until very near the end of the film that we learn the identities of the hunters; up to that point, having only caught fleeting glimpses of silhouetted figures we do not know how many of them there are, just that they are genuinely terrifying, cannot be bargained with and are very effective killers. We know that instant death could rain down on our protagonists at any second, and therefore the tension never lets up.

There is a danger that a film like this could become too samey, or too draining if it simply presented us with one long chase sequence. Fortunately there is sufficient variation in the shooting locations, subtle changes in pace and the introduction of a few extra characters to spice things up a bit. The outdoors locations are attractive to look at, ranging from rolling grassland, autumnal forests, raging rivers and deserted, run-down settlements. The landscape is sometimes as deadly as the hunters; one false step and our heroes could find themselves at the bottom of a ravine, especially when night falls.

They also have to contend with the cold, wet conditions and a lack of food. Without wishing to give out any spoilers, the additional characters provide the film with a welcome twist, as do the identities of the killers when they are finally revealed. It is a truly shocking revelation, but one that makes chilling sense in today’s topsy-turvy world. The movie has a few serious statements to make about society and identity, and the emotional knock-out punch at the climax makes the audience sit up and take notice. The latter stages of the film are shot in a number of visually inventive ways, but again, I cannot say any more for fear of giving too much away. You will have to track the movie down to discover what I am referring to!

Film fans who normally steer clear of foreign-language releases should still consider “King of the Hill”, not least because it is fairly light on dialogue; the characters are too busy running away most of the time to sit down and chat for long! It really is exciting stuff, and comes heartily recommended.

The movie is released on the 19 October 2009 by Optimum Home Entertainment, Certificate ‘15’ and RRP £19.99. The DVD comes with a few special features including some short interviews with the director and two stars, a narration-less “behind the scenes” montage and a trailer. One might have wished for something a little more substantial, but they do at least provide an insight or two into the creation of the film.

One word of warning, though: annoyingly, the Region 2 DVD sleeve features an image and tag-line that might give part of the film’s major twist away, so try not to look at or think about it! The USA release has a slightly different, less blatant picture but the same tag-line.

 

Movie Review: King of the Hill (2007)

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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