Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hellion Review

Well shit, Hellion. You had me for a while there. I was buying into the vision of unknown to me writer/director Kat Candler, even if that coming of age troubled family dynamic in a rural southern setting vision isn't exactly screaming of originality. While the entire picture had a sort of redundant feeling to it, at the very least it was executed very well and featured some really solid performances, and even now I did like the film and would recommend it to others. Unfortunately, that recommendation comes with a feeling of frustrating disappointment weighing it down. 

Hellion tells the story of a father named Hollis (Aaron Paul) struggling to keep his two sons in line, 13 year old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and 10 year old Wes (Deke Garner). Young Wes isn't so much the problem, but the progression of wanting to follow in his older brothers footsteps is concerning as Jacob is the definition of a problem child, constantly getting caught up on the wrong side of the law. After one particular night of mischief leads to the removal of Wes from their home, Hollis and Jacob must balance their deep emotional scars and explosively poor relationship to find a way to bring him back home.

I had no issues with anything on a performance level, with Aaron Paul restoring my faith that his brilliant turn as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad was not a fluke. It may seem quick of me to already be thinking negative thoughts of a multiple award winner only one year removed from the end of his career-making series, but to be fair, I sat through Need for Speed. The fact that his talents were so poorly utilized in such a limited, one note role is a shame, as I believe I could have stepped in during his many sequences of driving cars and trying to look cool and the film would have been just as effective, and lord knows I probably can't act and I certainly am not cool.

I noticed one of the "people who enjoyed Hellion also enjoyed..." films listed on IMDB was Jeff Nichol's Mud from last year, and I couldn't help but think of that film often while screening Hellion. They are very similar with setting and unstable family settings and the fact that adolescent actors were the focal point of the works despite a familar face excelling in a supporting role (McConaughey, Paul). The main difference is a major one, and that is the fact that Mud is a masterful example of storytelling and a dramatic film filled with warmth while Hellion feels limited in its exploration of deep rooted emotions and is essentially 93 minutes of cold, dire circumstances with very little to root for.

Despite any of these negative criticisms, the film still had me because it had a very real and raw quality to it thanks to the actors and a majority of the material written for them. The behavioral issues of the kids as a result of their situations at home are handled very maturely and believably, as I am well aware of the commonality of teenagers acting out when faced with such adversity. Where it lost me was in the third act when an amateurish storytelling device was utilized, a moment I didn't see coming despite being introduced to a gun in the hands of a minor earlier in the picture. Despite this being a debut work by Candler, I had hoped the maturity demonstrated throughout much of the film meant that she would avoid the totally predictable climactic scene in which a gun would come into play again. In the end, eye rolling predictability reared its ugly head and diminished the overall achievement for me.

In the end, Candler absolutely shows promise as a filmmaker and I will gladly look forward to future works that could be tightened up, because the skill on display here is impressive. A pretty good film that could have been great. 


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