This year is full of films that are taking place in Texas and as a Texan, I couldn’t be happier. It’s been nice that all the films have been somewhat different and explore the many different parts and people of the state. With Hellion, we’re nearer to the bigger cities, but far enough away to see what life is like on the outskirts and how different things may be. Either way, I’m all for the Texas pride!
In a small town in Texas, a man and his young sons mourn the death of their mother and have yet to all return to a “normal” lifestyle. Hollis (Aaron Paul), the man of the house, spends most of his days out at work, or trying to rebuild a home that meant something to his wife. While he’s working, his son’s Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner) attend school and get into all kinds of trouble. Well, at least Jacob does, seeing as he’s the eldest of the two and the most troubled in the family.
Jacob’s passions include motorbiking, jamming to heavy metal, and causing chaos (which he interprets as having fun). When his escapades get a little bit too out-of-hand, he ends up in a juvenile delinquent program that also puts Wes at risk with the Child Protective Services. Enter Pam (Juliette Lewis), Aunt to the boys who offers to take Wes with her to Houston, just until Hollis can get his life back in order. This only ups Jacob’s angst and aggression, as he’d do anything to keep his brother safe.
Hellion strikes a balance between a coming-of-age tale and that of a father trying to raise his kids the best he can. Taking place in Texas, this is yet another great tale to come from the South that follows a young boy through a transformative time in his life. However similar this film may feel, it manages to break into a new area of family, as it focuses heavily on the relationship between the brothers and the things that they would do for one another. There is no mother figure in these boy’s lives and it’s clear that the loss of her has taken a mental toll on all of them.
Josh Wiggins is the standout star of this film and has made quite the first impression. His adolescence is obvious in the choices he makes and in the voice he speaks with, but there’s a young man that’s growing inside him that knows he has to take care of his younger brother. He expresses himself with his racing and metal music, but his most outstanding moments are the ones where he’s desperately trying to get his brother back and get him to safety. He makes poor decisions because he’s young and there’s not much to do. While he has a parent, his father is hardly present in their lives and wants things to go back to the way they used to be. Wiggins evokes all the right emotions and his pain, anger, and moments of happiness are a joy to observe.
While they’re recognizable stars, Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis take the back seat in supporting roles that allow their more sentimental sides to take over. Paul, known for his vicious and hilarious character on Breaking Bad, nails the role of the broken father on the head and he struggles with rebuilding a home for his lost wife and being present in his kid’s lives. He doesn’t connect all that well with them, but he’s their father and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them. Lewis cares for Wes, but she doesn’t enjoy Jacob and his gang of hooligans. She realizes that Wes could grow up to become a delinquent and she believes that he’s better off with him, despite Paul and Wiggins’ determination to keep Wes around. She’s the one who has to make the tough calls and is the one who is the “bad guy” in the eyes of everyone else.
It’s obvious that the loss of their mother has affected the kids and they way they each handle it is presented with excellence. Jacob resorts to violence and anger to channel his rage, whereas the young and helpless Wes tries to fit in with his brother’s friends, while also finding football to be a good outlet. Wes, like all brother’s, tries to take after Jacob and it’s only clear to Lewis that that’s a bad thing. The boys share a special bond that’s clear when they enjoy jumping around the house and especially when they’re separated for some time. Their love for each other is tough, but it’s believable and touching all throughout the film. This is a look at the rougher side of family and what it means to be a good sibling and even parent. Director Kat Candler‘s close-up direction works wonders with these boys who are able to emote so much with their facial expressions.
Where I take some issue with Hellion is primarily with its slow progression of events and how things ultimately play out. The film runs a little over an hour-and-a-half and this only allows for us to see so much into this world and these boy’s lives. We see glimpses of Jacob’s time in juvenile reform center and we see moments of Wes doing well for himself while away from his family, but then events start to escalate rather quickly and some scenarios become forced towards the end of the film. The stakes get insanely high at one point and it’s hard to believe that some of the supporting characters would behave the way they do. Wiggins and Garner never falter in their performances, but everything around them seems a bit unbelievable.
Hellion manages to explore new ground, while still existing in a particular type of world we’ve seen before. The Texas scenery and broken-family scenario has been done before, but Candler offers up great direction and understanding of her hurting characters. Wiggins makes his voice and name heard and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to go on and to do some more wonderful work. Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis add the love and care that the boys need, while also showing their darker and more realistic sides in response to terrible situations. The acting elevates this film and the story proves to be equally touching as it is fresh (for the most part).