Sundance 2014: ‘Hellion’ a competently executed tale of impetuous boys struggling against grief

Aaron Paul in "Hellion"
Aaron Paul in “Hellion”

Written and directed by Kat Candler
USA, 2014

Based on Kat Candler’s short film of the same name, Hellion concerns itself with adolescent boys who have the weight of the world on their shoulders and are left to themselves to sort repressed feelings out. It’s a movie littered with beer cans, guns, and thoughtless behavior, yet it is also about coming around to responsibility and not letting bad circumstances take everything from you.

Unable to deal with his wife’s death and the devastation of his home in Galveston, Texas by a tornado, Hollis Wilson (Aaron Paul) drinks away his sorrow. His obvious love for his sons Jacob (newcomer Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner) comes through but his choice to not clean the house, keep track of their behavior, or nurture them is slowly disintegrating the family. Jacob starts to vandalize property and get into fights. He drags along his kid brother, who can’t process the flurry of action going on around him. Circumstance has stopped this family’s development in its tracks. By not addressing the void in their lives, Hollis has let his depression manifest into alcoholism and aimless, destruction-laden consequences for his boys.  Hellion delivers high drama and is thoroughly invested in its characters but stops just short of being an overwhelmingly effective exercise. Sometimes the action feels forced even if the emotional plot points are dead on and conveyed with nuance.

Paul is used well as a barely functioning father who can’t recognize how much damage he does by not stepping up to the plate as a protector and provider. Paul tries hard to distinguish himself from Breaking Bad‘s Jesse Pinkman and it works up until a point. He is neglectful but there is a feeling that time is misspent at length visually demonstrating how much Jacob attempts to pour his angst into motocross racing and how more attention could have been focused on exploratory dialogue within the family. The boys don’t have any reliable role models to look up to and only their aunt (Juliette Lewis) to fall back on when Child Protective Services is made aware that Hollis is loosing track of them. Lewis is a stabilizing influence on the story. She calmly asserts what is happening that all the other (male) characters refuse to acknowledge. Her wisdom is not profound, just common sense. Josh Wiggins lends a sad but vibrant energy as a boy prone to lashing out at whatever stands in the way of his small world. His weary, aged-beyond-his-years glances add much to a number of Hellion‘s explosive scenes.

Hellion features nearly all the right moves to be an independent success. It gives its actors room to breathe and inhabit their environment but for all its effort gives off an air of being restrained. This restraint doesn’t erase its profound insights into the difficulties of taking responsibility for yourself and others in the wake of trauma but it’s just enough to hold it back from ascending beyond simmering intensity to being an important showcase for the acting and writing talent that largely lies latent.

— Lane Scarberry

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