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  • 15
  • Thriller
  • 2007
  • 89 mins

King Of The Hill

King Of The Hill

Synopsis

Gonzalo López-Gallego directs this Deliverance-style woodlands thriller with a very modern sting in its tail

About

When we first meet Quim (Sbaraglia), the urban thirtysomething protagonist of King Of The Hill, he is driving in the Spanish countryside, trying to get a signal on his mobile phone. When that fails, he uses the payphone at an isolated service station, but is still unable to get through to his ex-girlfriend Sofia. He is, quite literally, disconnected - and while the film will soon veer into well-worn genre territory, director-writer Gonzalo López-Gallego never allows the theme of human disconnection to get lost in the woods.

In the service station's toilets, Quim makes an unexpected connection - first meeting, and then having spontaneous sex with, an attractive young stranger named Bea (Valverde). This moment of intimacy, however, turns out to have been illusory, as Quim realises that it was a treacherous cover for the theft of his wallet, and so he sets off in pursuit of her down a maze of woodland by-roads, only to find both his car and himself coming under fire from some rifle-toting hunters who are, for their own entertainment, out stalking the most dangerous game.

Later, with a bullet in his leg and his vehicle out of action, Quim will once again find Bea, but as the pair play cat-and-mouse with their murderous assailants, neither they nor we are sure how much trust they should place in each other or in their own humanity.

Normally claustrophobia is associated with enclosed, suffocating locations, but López-Gallego instead turns the wide open spaces of Spain's northern hill country into a source of tightening paranoia. Such adroit handling of tension serves the director well in his film's middle act, which, like his compatriot Koldo Serra's Backwoods (2006), in essence represents a Latin riff on the nature-versus-culture themes that are familiar from Straw Dogs (1971), Deliverance (1972) and Southern Comfort (1981).

Those trees and mountains and rocks, in all their unforgiving wildness, may appeal to our most primeval fears, but it is only in the film's last third, when the perspective suddenly shifts from the hunted to the hunters, and when the identity and motivation of the predatory killers are finally addressed, that King Of The Hill comes into its own, as a compelling moral message emerges from these amoral woodland playgrounds. The twist will hardly be new for anyone who has been keeping up with the horror genre over the past two or so years, but here, unlike in other recent, similar films, the shock is handled with an ethical seriousness that elevates it beyond mere exploitation.

Though King Of The Hill offers only impressionistic glimpses of the killers until the final revelation, the first appearance of one on screen is accompanied by the unmistakable sound of an apple being crunched. It is a sound which, ever since Genesis, has been associated with the loss of innocence and the fall of humanity - and that is ultimately what López-Gallego is staging here too, in the age of easy sex, cell phones and video games. The woods may be ancient, but it is an altogether more modern brand of anxiety that they conceal.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: María Valverde, Andrés Juste, Thomas Riordan, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Francisco Olmo, Manuel Sánchez Ramos, Pablo Menasanch
  • Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego
  • Screen Writer: Gonzalo López-Gallego
  • Writer (Story): Javier Gullón
  • Producer: Miguel Bardem, Álvaro Augustín, Juan Pita, Juanma Arance
  • Photographer: José David Montero, David Crespo

In a nutshell

In this solidly crafted, well performed thriller, humanity gets lost in the deep, dark woods.

by Anton Bitel

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