Director: Kat Candler
MPAA Rating: NR
[This is a repost of our review from Sundance 2014. Hellion is opening in theaters and VOD this Friday.]
Hellion is the latest film from director Kat Candler, based on her short film by the same name. While the film follows a slightly typical arc of family turmoil and drama, the great performances and solid script excuse the ordinary plot. It’s a solid familial drama that proves to be riveting, heartbreaking, and emotionally exhausting. More than anything however, Hellion is about taking ownership of one’s responsibilities.
Josh Wiggins stars as Jacob, a young teen who seems to go out of his way to stir up trouble wherever he goes. Jacob brings his little brother Wes (Deke Garner) along for the ride as he raises hell throughout their small Texas town. Aaron Paul plays their alcoholic father who attempts to juggle fatherhood while continuing to mourn the death of his wife to no great avail.
While Paul brings the star power to the film and his performance is extremely well done, the children are the standouts of the film. The level of emotion they bring to the screen is astounding and it’s incredible how one can feel what Jacob is thinking just by looking at the facial expressions of Wiggins. This is a very serious film with many adult themes and these kids handle it with ease.
The rural setting of the film is perfectly displayed, accurately portraying what it’s like to grow up in a small one-horse town. The kids explore construction sites, practice their motocross skills in the fields, and travel everywhere on their bikes. Like most pubescent kids, they bust stuff up, steal smokes, and look at nudie mags- the staples of growing up.
Jacob’s increasingly destructive behavior eventually sparks a visit from Child Protective Services who take Wes from the home to live with his aunt, played by Juliette Lewis. This acts as a wakeup call for his father who begins making positive changes, however it causes Jacob to lash out even more.
While many of the characters in the film make questionable decisions, Candler’s well-developed script makes everything they do understandable. We can see the direct result of how past events affect their personalities, which results in even the minor characters feeling fully realized. It’s also interesting how throughout the film it seems that both Jacob and his father are dealing with the same issues of responsibility. Be it being a responsible father or a responsible brother, their lives parallel one another leaving way for them to learn from each other.
Hellion is a fantastic debut from Kat Candler, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next (presumable a feature length Black Metal). Although the film may tread in familiar territory, especially in the final act, the strong performances, great visuals, and solid script make it an easy recommend.