SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | January 19, 2014
Director: Kat Candler
Writer: Kat Candler
Starring: Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Deke Garner, Josh Wiggins, Dylan Cole, Dalton Sutton, Camron Owens, Annalee Jefferies, Brent Smiga, Corby Sullivan, Jason Newman, Walt Roberts, Jonny Mars, Tanner Beard, Augustine Frizzell
Life is certainly not easy in the East Texas community where Hollis (Aaron Paul) is raising his two young sons, Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner). A former baseball hero, Hollis struggles to make ends meet by working in one of the oil refineries that pollute the periphery of the screen. This job is the only one that his economically devastated hometown has to offer.
Still an emotional wreck from the death of his wife, Hollis drowns his sorrows in a steady stream of Real Ale Fireman’s 4. Other than his alcoholic tendencies, however, Hollis is far from the stereotypical white trash male that we see in films. Hollis is a thoughtful and sensitive man who is too distracted by missing his wife to give Jacob and Wes the attention they require. He would much rather keep himself busy by rebuilding their hurricane-ravaged house in Galveston than be an attentive father; but that is only because he believes that once the house in Galveston is inhabitable again, that will improve his life as well as the boys’.
Suffering from lack of parental guidance and supervision, Jacob has turned into a bit of a hellion with a penchant for burning things and vandalism. Despite his delinquent behavior, Jacob has found himself having to mature into manhood much faster than any 13-year-old should. A source of his rebelliousness, Jacob is still bitter about being abandoned by his father for several months after his mother died, thus leaving Jacob with the responsibility of surviving without the assistance of any parents. Jealous of Wes for getting more attention from their father, Jacob includes his younger brother in his mischievous gang with every intention of getting Wes in trouble. Instead, Wes ends up being dragged away by Child Protective Services and placed in the custody of their aunt (Juliette Lewis).
By adapting her short film into this feature length production, the most noticeable alteration made by writer-director Kat Candler is in the character of the father. In the short film, the father fails as parent because he relies too much on punishing his boys with his belt; in this feature, Hollis is not a good parent because he is too emotionally distracted to notice that his boys are making bad choices. The feature allows Candler to create a father that is more well-rounded, someone with whom the audience can truly sympathize. In Aaron Paul’s hands, Hollis is given the emotional depth and empathy that this character deserves. Besides, who could not fall in love with a young single father who hopelessly pines over his deceased wife?
Shot in the hazy sunshine of the Gulf Coast, Hellion captures the difficulties of a single, working class parent, carefully examining the effects that local economics can have on families. The gritty, handheld cinematography (Brett Pawlak) hearkens back to the glory days of 1970s American independent cinema while also reflecting the working class livelihoods of this East Texas community. The visuals are accented by a much more modern heavy metal soundtrack that vocalizes Jacob’s pent up anger and hormonal rage.