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Thursday, January 22, 2009

KING OF THE HILL -- DVD review by porfle

More survival-of-the-fittest backwoods suspense a la DELIVERANCE comes our way with the Spanish thriller KING OF THE HILL, aka EL RAY DE LA MONTANA (2007). Having just watched the thoroughly gripping EDEN LAKE, also on the Dimension Extreme label, I was all set for more of the same. But as this one unfolded, I just kept getting less and less.

A young guy named Quim (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is driving cross-country toward what he hopes will be a reconciliaton with his ex-girlfriend. After an impromptu sexual encounter with the pretty young Bea (María Valverde) in a gas station restroom, Quim discovers that she has stolen his wallet.

Spotting her car later on, he turns off the main road and gives chase, quickly getting hopelessly lost. When he catches up with her, they both suddenly find themselves the targets of one or more unseen snipers who seem intent on shooting them full of holes, and end up running for their lives through the woods as their hunters relentlessly pursue them.

The direction and photography are simple but effective, as is the script which is light on plot and exposition and concentrates mainly on plunging us into one suspense scene after another. The downside to this is that we really don't care much about Quim and Bea as characters. Thus, the first part of the film is fairly absorbing in a superficial way while our emotional involvement is pretty much zippo. Quim turns out to be such a self-centered whiner that it's hard to empathize with him (although to be honest, I'd probably be the same way in a similar situation). Bea fares a bit better, overcoming our initial distaste for her by displaying some bravery and actually saving Quim's sorry hide a couple of times. Still, we hardly get to know her. The actors, meanwhile, do their best with the roles.

All of this becomes moot about three-quarters of the way through, when the identity of the killers is revealed and we suddenly begin to see the rest of the story from their point of view. Who and what they are, and why they're doing what they're doing, is intended to be a mind-boggling twist, but instead it's simply another example of what lately seems to be a trend in this sort of story. At any rate, this shift in the film's POV interrupts the build-up of suspense and henceforth we simply observe the killers on the prowl. Some of this is done in first-person-shooter style, which is meant to suggest that these trigger-happy sociopaths have honed their killer instincts and shooting skills with the help of those mind-warping videogames.

KING OF THE HILL tries to get us back on the edge of our seats with a final cat-and-mouse confrontation in a deserted village, but by this time it's pretty much a slow fizzle. The killers are no longer mysterious, the protagonist is no longer someone I'm really all that concerned about, and what is meant to be a morally complex, emotionally-charged "meaningful" climax simply left me thinking, "Is that it?" The way in which the final moments are shot and performed, it's clear that director Gonzalo López-Gallego means to leave us stunned with emotion. Instead, I was disappointed and unmoved.

Presented in matted widescreen format with Dolby Digital sound, the DVD features both the original Spanish soundtrack and a dubbed English version, with Spanish and English subtitles. There are no extras.

Dimension Extreme has been putting out some pretty entertaining stuff lately, but for me, KING OF THE HILL is a letdown. It isn't even "extreme", since most of the violence consists of some squib hits and, in one scene, a rather nasty broken leg. It's pretty tame in all other respects, too, and with the exception of some tense moments and one somewhat memorable death scene, it fails to deliver anything more gripping or meaningful than your average TV-movie. To be fair, however, I must add that several reviewers have practically swooned over this film--in fact, I seem to be one of the few who didn't. So either I just didn't get it, or it just didn't get me.

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