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Review: Hellion (2014)

Hellion (2014)

Directed by: Kat Candler

Premise: A teenage boy (Josh Wiggins) and his friends engage in increasingly dangerous criminal behavior, which leads to his younger brother being taken by Child Protective Services. The brothers’ widowed father (Aaron Paul) struggles to hold his family together.

What Works: Hellion is a small independent picture about a fractured family and the fraught relationship between a father and his sons. The movie has a lot in it that is subtle and it is the kind of picture that has a lot going on just beneath the surface of its characters. Hellion is mostly a series of actions and reactions, in which a teenage boy engages in vandalism and other criminal activities and his father must deal with the consequences. One of the outstanding qualities of Hellion is the way in which it does not excuse the behavior of the teenage delinquents but does allow some insight into their motives. Many of these boys come from families that have been fractured by divorce or suffer from economic pressures. They take out their aggression on other people’s property and the rapport between the teenagers has a lot of authenticity. The filmmakers capture the thrill of vandalism but also the anarchic and destructive instinct that is inherent to adolescence. Another of the exceptional qualities of Hellion is the way the filmmakers avoid easy resolutions. The lead character is obsessed with motocross racing and he intends to compete in a local event. In a more mainstream film, this would be the hobby that straightens him out and brings father and son together. But Hellion isn’t that kind of movie and the filmmakers subversively avoid simplistic and melodramatic resolutions. Hellion is led by two key performances. Josh Wiggins is cast as the troubled young man and the young actor is terrific in this part. When Hollywood portrays lower class or rural characters it often does so derisively. Wiggins’ character in Hellion is a terrible son but he also has a lot of complexity as he alternately engages in stupid behavior but also does his best to raise his younger brother in the absence of their father, played by Aaron Paul. Paul is also very good and like the teenage cast there is a lot going on beneath his performance.

What Doesn’t: There has been a small trend of independent movies released in the past few years concentrating on poor and working class families usually located in the rural south. Titles such as Mud and Joe have established the visual style and the story parameters for films of this kind. Hellion is another entry in this trend but it isn’t quite as good as either of the other two films. Some of that is a matter of sympathy; the young protagonists of Mud and Joe were more empathetic and so their struggles were more dramatically engaging than the teenager of Hellion, who goes around breaking things for his own self-gratification and is generally his own worst enemy. That is the challenge that the filmmakers of Hellion have set for themselves; their lead character is not very likable, especially in the first portion of the movie, and the film’s success is dependent upon the viewer doing the work of finding the empathy in the story instead of having it handed to us by the storyteller. The plotting of Hellion is a little hit and miss in places. A few of the turns in the storyline are a little too obvious and the ending of the story is troubling. Without giving too much away, Hellion is about a widowed father trying to keep his family together but the conclusion does not entirely resolve the problem. It’s a subtle and character-driven resolution and it does work for the movie but it isn’t the kind of closed and concrete conclusion that mainstream audiences might expect.

DVD extras: Original short film, featurettes, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Hellion is a movie that has probably slipped beneath the radar of most viewers but it is worth seeking out. It’s a tough film and it does not necessarily follow commercial expectations but the movie does have a lot in it that is great, including the performances by Aaron Paul and Josh Wiggins.

Episode: #531 (March 1, 2015)