Back in 2008, director Bruce McDonald released the horror film Pontypool, which was inventive and claustrophic. Pontypool promised a great new voice in horror, but it’s a promise that McDonald hasn’t lived up to since. Still, it was hard not to walk into Hellions expecting great things. Sadly there is very little in this film to admire. Hellions follows teenager Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose), who must survive Halloween night when evil trick-or-treaters come for her.
The film starts out intriguingly enough with an ominous and uncut shot inside a hospital. From there the film keeps the momentum going with the revelation of teenage pregnancy, the specter of Halloween hanging over the film and creepy little evildoers bringing a dark goal to reality, but eventually it becomes evident that McDonald nor screenwriter Pascal Trottier have any clue where to take this film. The story veers between a home invasion thriller, psychological horror, surrealism and camp. It doesn’t manage to merge any of these styles in any engaging construct, it ends up just making a pile of stale and uninspired stylings and homages. One sequence that seems to last forever finds various closeups of Dora running through the woods edited on top of each other. The effect isn’t heightening or engaging, it just drags out the moment to beef up the runtime a little. The editing is atrocious, the most climactic moment is played out in poor jump cutting between a supposed reality and surreality that don’t heighten the situation, but just confuse the intention of it. It’s obvious that McDonald is using shoddy editing to try to mask a lack of footage to create a strong scene with.
The brightest spot of the film comes in the score by Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre. Much of it is derived from an eerie and playful children’s chant, heightening the involvement of the malevolent villains and the more playful throwback to home invasion horrors of yesteryear. The score is essentially everything the film is failing to be – fun, terrifying and inventive – and the work by the composing duo deserves a better film to match it with.
What the makes the film frustrating to watch is that there are moments where it is almost great. Some of the blood moon lit shots are striking, the construct of the little villains are intriguing – even if you can point at one and claim it’s clearly ripped off from horror gem Trick ‘r Treat. The film is looking towards Halloween, Trick ‘r Treat and but remarkably isn’t headed in any coherent direction. The shots of endless fields of pumpkins certainly are striking, but go to waste when McDonald decides to waste time by blowing them all up with Microsoft Paint levels of VFX explosions in order to squeeze a few more minutes into the slim 87-minute runtime.
Much of the film occurs during a blood moon, and while some of the shots – particularly those of the evil trick-or-treaters in the background look stunning, for the most part it is evident that it is a half-assed job of shooting day for night. Robert Patrick is trying his best to have fun with the role of the sheriff, but his moments to shine are dimmed by McDonald’s lack of vision. Chloe Rose tries to bring as much immediacy to the role as she can, and even get a few moments that are meant to be enjoyably camp but fall flat due to McDonald’s inability to give the moments the correct timing for impact. When the credits began rolling, a few audience members gave some pity applause – even the lesser films at Sundance get a modest applause as is custom – while 3/4ths of the rest in attendance just simply got up and left.