HELLION (2014) Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Jonny Mars, Walter Orr Roberts, Dalton Sutton, Annalee Jefferies. Directed by Kat Candler
Friday Night Lights gone bad describes the opening scene of Kat Candler's new movie "Hellion" as the local Port Arthur, Texas football team goes head to head under the bright stadium lights while a bunch of juvenile delinquents vandalize a pickup truck in the parking lot. Baseball bats slice through the air, glass shatters, and Heavy Metal music blares in the background, a powerful display of teen angst.
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad, Need For Speed) plays Hollis, a single parent raising two boys, 13 year old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and 10 year old Wes (Deke Garner). Since the death of their mom, life has taken a turn for the worse. Jacob who seems to be filled with rage most days, keeps getting in trouble with the law and his younger brother Wes, who looks up to Jacob, keeps getting pulled in to his older brother's delinquency. Hollis, who abandoned the boys for three months after their mother passed away, spends most of his time drowning in beer cans or working on the unfinished home in Galveston that his late wife always dreamed of. Juliette Lewis plays the boys aunt Pam, who is concerned for their welfare and begins to look after Wes after CPS enters the picture.
The movie is filled with emotionally charged scenes and features exceptional performances by Aaron Paul and especially newcomer Josh Wiggins, who was discovered on YouTube by Candler after a tip from a friend. Paul continues to put in some really good performances since Breaking Bad ended and this is his best so far. You can see the hurt in Hollis' face and although we can't condone his actions as a father to these two boys, it's easy to understand the pain he's going through and why he is caught up in a cycle that is detrimental to himself and his loved ones. The whole cast really shines and their natural performances help sell this tragic tale, but Josh Wiggins as Jacob is extraordinary and it's hard to imagine he's just acting. There are plenty of great scenes where Josh is filled with anger and acts on impulse but there is also one prominent scene where Jacob is hanging out with his friends and like a time bomb going off, he explodes and breaks down sobbing uncontrollably as if his defense shield just dropped to zero revealing that he's just a kid underneath that tough persona.
The movie was written and directed by Kat Candler and it's based on her 2012 short film. When she's not making movies, Candler is teaching film production at University Of Texas in Austin, so she not only talks the talk but walks the walk. Her love for movies began when she started working in a movie theater at 15 and continued working there through college. She is a self-taught filmmaker who hung out with friends who were involved with the industry (in Austin that's pretty much everyone) and after making a few shorts, she made her way in to Sundance.
Hellion is a powerful and tragic film that offers hope for these characters and I found myself wanting to know what happens to this family in the future. I image it won't be an easy solution but I'd like to think in the end they come together and persevere. (3 1/2 stars)
*Hellion opens Friday June 27th at the Violet Crown Cinema in Austin and July 4th at the Sundance Cinema Houston.
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