Monday, July 21, 2014

[Review] Hellion

Written and Directed by Kat Candler, Hellion is a forbidding tale of family woes set deep in the dusty pits of Southeast Texas.

13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is a thrash metal t-shirt wearing, dirtbiking, vandalizing, troublemaker. He lives with his younger brother Wes and their hard-living father Hollis, played by a heavily bearded Aaron Paul, who you might know from a little TV show called "Breaking Bad". The three are mourning the recent death of the mother and wife of the family. Hollis takes off for a while, leaving the two boys alone, and things don't go very well. A visit from social services splits up the family--Hollis is allowed to retain custody of Jacob (under strict court guidelines), while Wes goes and lives with their cool and compassionate aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis).

The result is a slow burner of complicated family matters, teenage angst, grief, pain, and flashing red and blue lights. It launches into grim territory when a gun ends up in the wrong hands, setting off the narrative into full-on tragedy. The characters comprise a group of very flawed individuals that we feel for due to their heavy hearts, and we wish against their unfortunate decisions. The film envelops hints of last year's enthralling The Place Beyond The Pines, but it's on a much smaller scale.

Amidst the handheld camera movements, lens flares, and washed out colors, the stellar performances emerge above everything. Newcomer Josh Wiggins gives a solid debut--best when conveying his thoughts in a distressed stare. Aaron Paul continues to impress, delivering a tightly focused turn, almost like a mature version of Jesse Pinkman. Juliette Lewis is only in a small amount of scenes, but she's great in all of them, especially during the times of aunt/nephew bonding. Even though there are instances early on in the story when the script seems like it's stalling, these fine performances keep us invested. And even though the film feels a bit middle-of-pack in comparison to other entries of this genre, it still packs its powerful moments.

Hellion is the type of film where almost everything that can go wrong... does. It's a harsh coming of age trial--a not so feel-good story.


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