SXSW FILM 2014
By Linc Leifeste | March 9, 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
A feature length expansion of her 2012 short film, Kat Candler’s Hellion is a wrenching, slow-burn tale of a family in free-fall. Hollis (Aaron Paul) isn’t much of a father to his two young sons, Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner). He’s damaged goods, stumbling through a cloud of depression and despair, attempting to reengage with life after the sudden unexpected death of his wife. He works long days at one of the many oil refineries that pollute his East Texas town, spends his evenings self-medicating with beer (Austin’s own Real Ale Fireman’s 4, for the record), leaving his boys to generally fend for themselves. It’s a testament to Paul’s performance and director Kat Candler’s strong writing and direction that the viewer never judges Hollis too harshly.
Josh Wiggins delivers a revelatory performance as the titular hellion, a 13-year-old whose rebellion has gone well beyond the harmless norm into full blown juvenile delinquency, with acts of arson and vandalism. Like his father, he’s been wounded by the death of his mother, but he’s been forced to deal with the additional heartbreak of losing his father, who abandoned the kids to the care of their aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis) for months while struggling to deal with his grief before returning to try to undo the damage. But that kind of damage isn’t easily undone.
Jacob is also dealing with feelings of jealousy towards younger Wes, who seems to receive more of their father’s time and affection, probably due his youthful emotional resiliency, making him easier for his father to interact with. Jacob repeatedly includes his brother in his delinquent behavior, with the likely intention of trying to get him into trouble, but things go horribly awry when Jacob’s activities attract the attention of Child Protective Services and Wes is pulled from his father’s house and put in the care of his aunt Pam.
Hollis has been clinging to a dream of restoring a storm-ravaged Galveston home to run away to with the boys and Jacob is clinging to the dream of saving the family by becoming a successful dirt bike racer. But the truth of the matter is that in order to get Wes back and reunite the family, both Jacob and Hollis have to do the much harder work of making major life changes, and change never comes easy. And as Wes experiences life in a stable household with a parental figure that’s attentive and loving, there’s no guarantee he’s going to be eager to return to the mess he’s been pulled from.
Hellion is one hell of a film, beautifully shot and adroitly acted, with Candler displaying a penchant for character development that any writer or director could do well to study. But that’s not to say that Candler has made a flawless film. Slowly paced almost to a fault, there’s a sudden, violent climactic development that feels awkward and slightly forced but those are small bumps in the road that are only vaguely remembered by the time the film pulls into its final destination. What stays with you, what lingers in your heart and mind, is the haunting memory of the intense pain contained within Aaron Paul’s eyes, the hopeful innocence of Deke Garner’s presence and the brooding, wounded performance turned in by Josh Wiggins.