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HELLION – SXSW 2014 Movie Review

Dir: Kat Candler

Coming into SXSW, Hellion had a tremendous amount of buzz.  A movie by local Austin director Kat Candler (Cicadas, Black Metal) that stars Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul (most recently of Need For Speed) set expectations high.  By all accounts Hellion surpasses expectations and is Candler’s finest work to date.

The film follows the Wilson family.  Aaron Paul plays Hollis, the father of two boys who has fallen into extreme alcoholism after the death of his wife.  Hollis regularly leaves his boys alone while he attempts to rebuild the family beach house, a dream his wife had for their family.  While he is gone, Hollis’ kids, thirteen year old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and ten year old Wes (Deke Garner) roam the streets vandalizing their town.  Jacob and friends utilize spray paint, baseball bats, even fire.  Jacob’s exploits have landed him regular trips to juvenile detention on a part-time basis.  The threat of full-time detention looms over his head.  Though Jacob is a bad influence over his younger brother he does care for him.  He’s thirteen, still a kid himself and not ready for the responsibility of watching over his brother.  Wes is a good kid, but he is surrounded by two individuals that are on separate paths of self destruction.  Despite his environment he keeps a good attitude and goes with the flow.

The boys’ exploits don’t go unnoticed.  Their aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis, August: Osage County, Kelly & Cal) has witnessed the decline of Hollis and Jacob.  She recognizes that Wes can be saved from traveling down the same path as his family.  One afternoon the boys receive a visit for Child Protective Services (CPS).  Hollis is absent as always and not there to witness CPS take custody of Wes and grant temporary custody to Pam.   With the realization of losing his son Hollis is forced to correct his behavior and clean up his act.  Jacob’s reaction is different.  His passion for motor cross leads him to enter a local race.  He devotes all his time and energy in to practicing for the race instead of destroying the town.  Jacob believes by winning the race he can turn his life around and somehow win back custody of Wes.

At it’s core Hellion is a beautifully tragic and violent film.  Paul and Wiggins both convey their character’s pain masterfully.  Aaron Paul adds another great character to his arsenal of performances and newcomer Wiggins stands toe to toe with Paul.  The emotion and energy he conveys in his facial expressions alone prove Wiggins is beyond his years in acting ability.  He delivers his lines perfectly showing the right amount of anger, pain, fear and weakness called for in his character.  Both Hollis and Jacob are attempting to deal with all the lose in their lives.  Hollis finally has to face the pain he has brought on his boys while grieving.  Emotionally absent from his sons’ lives Hollis must deal with his own demons and begin to be a stable force for his children.  His absence has caused Jacob to bury his grief.  Jacob has to acknowledge the pain of not being able to grieve for his mother.  His brother’s absence has taken away the last stable force in his life.  The longer Jacob is away from Wes the harder it is for him to hide his emotions.

In addition to Paul and Wiggins stand out performances is that of Dalton Sutton.  Dalton plays Lance, a member of Jacob’s crew.  The anger and fire he brings to Lance is frightening.  Jacob has surrounded himself with like-minded friends.  They feed off each others rage.  Lance in particular evolves from angry kid to an unrecognizable, terrifying being.

Candler uses a soundtrack loaded with heavy metal.  She has written Jacob’s character as a fan of the music.  Candler’s inclusion of the music is loud and aggressive.  It transmits Jacob’s anger perfectly.  The music is controlled chaos.  It never takes away from the acting, but enhances it.  My only knock on the film is the over use of free camera.  There are a few shots where the effect is over done.  Though I’m not a huge fan of the technique, I understand why it is incorporated.  Hellion is a film with such raw power and strength that the effect is not necessary; the movie stands on its own merits.

Though Hellion is a heavy film I left the screening with a feeling of hope.  Gems like Hellion are lost in the world of big budget juggernaut movie making.  Candler is an amazing storyteller.  If you get a chance to see this film do.  While we can’t all relate to the story of Jacob and Hollis, we have all been struck with tragedy in our lives.  The fortunate ones grieve immediately, but many of us deny ourselves that emotion and bury it deep within us.  At some point it surfaces, usually at inopportune times.  Hellion explores how grief manifests itself when denied and the consequences of those manifestations.

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The Author

Tony Chapa

Tony Chapa

Long-time television and movie fan. Ph.D. in late 80's/90's network sitcoms. Exposed to cable television at a young age and it shows.