Review: Black Heart, Red Hands

Written and directed by Russell Southam, a first-time killer learns what it really takes to pull off the perfect crime. Starring: Kurt Bayly, Benjamin W Sullivan, Gemma Dart, Benn Spillane, Kya Stewart, Campbell McGillivray, Keely Spedding, Kashmala Sameer, Albert Goikhman, Caitlin Murphy, Josh Megarrity and Tamaryn Hurly.

The human obsession with everything murder related is something that seems to never tire, people can’t get enough of knowing the disturbing details of psychopathic behaviour, its consequences and its victims. If any of that sounds like you then this film is going to be a great fit, it hits a lot of the familiar tones and themes of police and crime dramas. Opening up on some well executed drone shots, a much more common choice in film these days and for good reason because when it’s done right it can add a lot and here it does exactly that, the shots of the vast woods immediately enhances its suspense. It’s a brief moment but the film’s visual quality is consistent throughout, the cinematography is superb and the direction is not only visually pleasing but it also has a lot to add to the atmosphere of the film. It adds a lot of tension through it’s early style of being shot in a way as to be watching its characters from afar, making the danger and threat clear while not directly showing it to keep the suspense going. Its use of close-ups and focus on details to almost throw you off the trail is also well done, and it’s used sparingly enough to not distract from the progress of the story.

How you perceive this story might be dependent on how many crime dramas you’ve watched in your time, those of you who’ve dived into countless shows might find it somewhat predictable as it gives you plenty of clues to its story, so a bigger surprise may be in store for those less experienced with murderous television. However, the story has a clear and well paced progression, although it does feel as certain deaths happen fairly fast in succession and could have been drawn out slightly more, but so long as you’re paying attention, it’s not going to throw you off the trail too much or be confusing. The choice that was perhaps slightly out of the norm is having a more physically strong character as a killer, with them so often being thin and creepy, having him be a more clever, manipulative killer, who’s not maniacal but aware how to use his authoritative presence to lull people into a false sense of security. There is some of the dialogue that feels clichéd but then you find that in any major studio’s crime or police project as much as any, it’s simply one of those things that’s difficult to avoid as it’s like trying to reinvent the wheel and only the rarest of films and television manage to avoid it. However, there is some individuality, mostly coming in the form of police-used jibes to offend a junior officer, they’re well written and surprisingly apt.

The acting has its up and downs, some of the actors playing the student, backpacker types feel forced or wooden, with the exception of Dart who feels more natural. Bayly and Sullivan give great performances, they’re both extremely convincing and the very controlled darkness that Sullivan brings to his character is almost chilling to watch. There’s a nice variety in its tone, it hits all the right notes for crime and police but the small additions of horror and even a dash of comedy keep it feeling new, despite how much crime drama dominates television and film. There feels as though there was an opportunity to go darker, it’s fairly light on its violence but adding more blood and gore can also cheapen a film so Southam may have made the right choice to hold back. It’s also supported by a very subtle yet effective score, it’s nice to see a film such as this not trying too heavily to push people’s emotions in the right direction, instead using the music simply to enhance the atmosphere that the visual is creating. Typically feeling overly familiar would be a point in the negative column but in fact the way that this reminds you of other crime dramas works entirely in its favour.

Black Heart, Red Hands is entertaining, suspenseful and well directed, it has everything that you need from a crime drama, technically it has more because of the clever choice to begin with one killer accidentally discovering another. It builds a nice amount of tension and moves swiftly but purposefully, some of the acting isn’t as good as its sinister leads but it doesn’t take away from the film as a whole. The film hits a lot of the familiar notes that have so often drawn viewers into murder centric stories, displaying a lot of talent for first time director Southam and undoubtedly, it leaves you wanting more.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

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