Based on Kat Candler’s own short film, Hellion is a movie that tries to explore the life of a thirteen year old boy named Jacob (Josh Wiggins) who has recently lost his mother, and to make things worse his father (Aaron Paul) has been emotionally absent while drowning himself in booze. It is no surprise that Jacob has been expressing his rebellion by participating in several acts of vandalism along with his neighborhood friends. When word gets out that his little brother, Wes (Deke Garner), is being dragged into this lifestyle, CPS places him in the care of their Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). Hollis loves his children, but he is still hurting for the loss of their mother and when he realizes that he is also losing his children he tries to change, but the focus of the film is on Jacob who thinks he can make things right by winning a local dirt bike competition. This is a coming of age film that tries to portray the family dynamics in an authentic way, but it never fully avoids the genre cliches. Hellion lacks some subtlety, but it benefits from a strong lead performance from Josh Wiggins. Besides directing, Candler wrote the screenplay for this film in which she has no intention of shining a light on the innocence of this kid, but rather portraying him as a victim of his circumstance due to the neglect of his father. Somehow the film failed to connect with me and I wouldn’t recommend it over other brilliant coming of age films. Clocking at just under 100 minutes the pacing of the film does seem to be a problem as well and many scenes could’ve been cut out of the movie. We are repeatedly batted over the head with Jacob’s rebellious behavior and it got a bit tiresome after a while. The soundtrack consists of mostly heavy metal tracks which both Jacob and his father like to indulge in while at home. The story takes place in a small southern Texas town which is gorgeously captured by Brett Pawlak’s shaky cameras. Unfortunately everything that Hellion tries to say has been said before in other better films.
What Hellion has going for it are the strong performances. Josh Wiggins is outstanding as the lead character in the film. It is hard to get a good performance from young teen actors at times, but Wiggins is a natural and he delivers an authentic portrayal of a troubled teen who is struggling to understand why the world has turned its back on him. Deke Garner plays his younger brother in a subtle manner. He is mostly a sponge that tries to absorb what the people around him say to him. Garner had worked with Candler in the short which this film is based on. Imagine if Aaron Paul’s character from Breaking Bad would’ve been rehabilitated after finding a lovely wife and having two children with her. Later he loses his wife and falls in despair all over again, but instead of drowning his sorrows in drugs he does so with booze. Paul is playing this character full of anger once again who doesn’t seem to know how to raise his children on his own. It was refreshing to see Juliette Lewis playing a normal role and trying to be a good role model for her nephews. This is Josh Wiggins movie and he elevates the material in such a way that he makes this a watchable experience despite lacking originality and subtlety.