×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Hellion’

Newcomer Josh Wiggins steals the show in this verite-style story of an agitated 13-year-old delinquent.

With:

Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Jonny Mars, Dalton Sutton, Camron Owens, Dylan Cole, Walt Roberts, Annalee Jefferies.

What turns an ordinary 13-year-old into a seething ball of rage? With “Hellion” — expanded from her 2012 Sundance-selected short — Texas-based helmer Kat Candler unpacks the inner turmoil behind acts of trespassing, vandalism and spontaneous aggression that threaten to send young Jacob down the wrong path in life. More sensitive than sensational, Candler’s debut doesn’t add much in the way of insight to the juvenile delinquency genre, but boasts a stunning breakthrough performance from newcomer Josh Wiggins as the troublemaker in question. Though tamer than it sounds, with support from “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul, the pic could connect with regionally inclined arthouse auds.

Paul plays the overwhelmed widower-dad in a family where (in perhaps the biggest change from the short) the mother’s absence is acutely felt; much of Jacob’s need to act out is explained by her death, the details of which the film guards until most emotionally advantageous moment. First, we see only his misbehavior, which explodes from the beginning with a seemingly unmotivated attack by Jacob and his friends on a pickup truck parked outside the local football stadium. As the kids destroy the vehicle with baseball bats and spray-paint bottles, heavy metal rages on the soundtrack — the musical analog to their fury.

But why so angry? The adults in the film are constantly telling Jacob how fortunate he is: lucky to be alive, lucky to be given a suspension instead of a juvenile prison sentence, lucky not to be taken from his father and placed in a foster home. But judging by the defiant scowl permanently etched on his face, Jacob doesn’t see it that way. He’s old enough to recognize the hypocrisy of the system (he has reason to roll his eyes when his alcohol-dependent dad tells him to take responsibility) and disempowered in a society crowded with rules and crawling with cops, none of which can bring back his mom.

The closest maternal substitute Jacob’s world has to offer is his aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis, cast as the stable one among crazies for once). She’s heartbroken to see what’s become of her late sister’s family, but barely has the energy to care for Jacob’s younger brother, Wes (Deke Garner). It’s a grim environment in which to grow up, with Dad distracted and no role models to speak of. By the time a social worker shows up to evaluate the kids’ living conditions, sifting through cluttered cabinets and empty beer bottles, audiences have long since recognized the need for an intervention.

Shot in the southeast Texas town of Port Arthur, two hours outside of Houston or Galveston (where his mom dreamed of a better life for the family), “Hellion” captures the pressure to get out and make something of oneself, though Jacob’s only real option is motocross — a dangerous sport perfectly suited to his devil-may-care attitude. When not destroying other people’s property, Jacob and his friends spend their down time riding dirt bikes unsupervised.

Some kids do fine when left to their own devices, but between the agitated heavy-metal score and d.p. Brett Pawlak’s jittery camerawork (between this and “Short Term 12,” somebody get the man a tripod already), the audience finds itself in a state of nervous anticipation of what comes next. At each turn, “Hellion” reminds of the many factors working against Jacob, especially if he gets sent back to juvie, where a former classmate was recently stabbed to death.

Candler’s depiction of restless Southern childhood stands in stark contrast to the romantic reverie offered by Terrence Malick just three years back with “The Tree of Life,” which provides an especially fascinating comparison in terms of how rowdy youngsters drag their delicate younger siblings into the danger zone. “Hellion” offers a more conventional plot, but that is also its chief limitation, somehow reducing the complexity of its verite character study to relatively straightforward psychology.

Although Wiggins shows the riveting turmoil of a young Jean-Pierre Leaud, as well as a defiant intensity and hardened features that recall Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” the film seems too eager to tame him. A child this conflicted will take years to recover, and though Wiggins never once steps wrong in the role, the script oversimplifies things in the end.

Sundance Film Review: 'Hellion'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 17, 2014. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production:

A Silver Sail Entertainment presentation in association with Arts + Labor. Produced by Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy. Executive producers, Janice Beard, Tanner Beard, Suzanne Weinert, Sarah Green, Jeff Nichols. Co-producer, Andrew Logan. Co-executive producer, Aaron Paul.

Crew:

Directed, written by Kat Candler. Camera (color, widescreen), Brett Pawlak; editor, Alan Canant; music, Curtis Heath; production designer, Deneice O'Connor; art director, Dustin Shroff; costume designer, Annell Brodeur; sound, Renee Stairs; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Pete Horner; visual effects, Joe Nicolosi; special effects coordinator, Mark Hava; stunt coordinator, Regis Harrington; associate producers, David Hansen, Kristin Johansen-Berg; assistant director, Michelle Millette; second unit camera, Yuta Yamaguchi; casting, Lauren Grey.

With:

Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Jonny Mars, Dalton Sutton, Camron Owens, Dylan Cole, Walt Roberts, Annalee Jefferies.

More Film

  • Korea Box Office Weekend: ‘Default’ Wins

    Korea Box Office: ‘Default’ Wins Again, ‘Nutcracker,’ 'Mortal Engines' Fail to Excite

    Korean-made financial drama, “Default” remained on top of the South Korean box office for the second consecutive weekend. The CJ Entertainment release earned $4.95 million from 631,200 admissions between Friday and Sunday for a total of $19.9 million after two weekends on release. “Bohemian Rhapsody” also remained in second. The Fox release earned $4.79 million [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Meikincine Picks Up ‘Just

    Ventana Sur: Meikincine Takes ‘Just Love,’ ‘Super Crazy’(EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Lucia and Julia Meik’s Buenos Aires boutique sales company Meikincine has acquired international sales rights to two of the more mainstream Argentine propositions at this year’s Ventana Sur: Andy Caballero and Diego Corsini’s “Just Love,” and “Re Loca,” the Argentine remake of Chile’s “Sin Filtro.” The “Re Loca” deal is for world [...]

  • Priyanka Chopra Variety Power of Women

    Ivanhoe Pictures Boards Priyanka Chopra’s ‘The Sky is Pink’

    “Crazy Rich Asians” producer Ivanhoe Pictures has come on board Priyanka Chopra’s family drama “The Sky Is Pink.” Ivanhoe will co-invest and co-produce. Fact-based, “Pink” is written and directed by top director Shonali Bose and is based on the life of motivational speaker Aisha Chaudhury. The film is Chopra’s first in India since her U.S. [...]

  • Aquaman

    China Box Office: ‘Aquaman’ Sinks All Challengers With $94 Million Opening

    The decision to release “Aquaman” in China two weeks prior to its North American outing paid off handsomely. The DC Comics adaptation achieved a massive $94.1 million opening in three days, according to data from Asian entertainment consultancy Artisan Gateway. The early release meant that the film played against weak opposition – tired Hollywood and [...]

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Emmanuel Lubezki Discuss the

    Alfonso Cuarón Details 'Roma' Cinematography With 'Gravity' DP Emmanuel Lubezki

    As part of an overall push to bring Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” to awards season voters, Netflix’s “‘Roma’ Experience'” played host to guild and Academy members Sunday in Hollywood. The all-day event featured panels focused on the film’s crafts and an audio-visual installation akin to the streamer’s FYSee initiative for Emmy contenders, featuring costumes and art [...]

  • IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for

    IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for ‘On The Job’ Franchise

    Filipino director Erik Matti is known for his eclectic body of work that includes “Honor Thy Father” and “Seklusyon.” His 2013 effort, “On The Job” travelled widely and won several awards including two at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and was nominated for an SACD Prize at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. Matti is at [...]

  • Joan Chen attends the season premiere

    Joan Chen Talks Diversity in Hollywood, Welcomes #MeToo

    Chinese-American actress, writer and director Joan Chen says that she was flattered when Time magazine described her as the “Elizabeth Taylor of China.” When asked at an in-conversation event in Singapore on Saturday whether she paved the way for Chinese actresses to follow in Hollywood, Chen said, “We never go to work because we want [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content