Dr. Donna Copeland’s
AARON PAUL JULIETTE LEWIS JOSH WIGGINS
Former Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul (Need for Speed) has certainly gotten my attention with his performance in the new film Hellion. Written, directed and based on her short film of the same name, Kat Candler delivers a rousing and emotional look at the struggle of young men trying to overcome tragedy. Also a professor at The University of Texas in Austin, she is a familiar face in the Texas film community. Hellion, which debuted at Sundance, hits SXSW wide open and left the same kind of impression Jeff Nichols’ Mud did the previous year. Candler taps into the reality of the situation presented here, where a husband and his two boys are completely devastated after the death of their mother/wife. Candler embeds the story on the coast of Texas in Galveston County and plays off the destruction of houses and shattered lives left in locations like Boliver and Port Arthur.
Jacob Wilson (Wiggins) has a knack for destruction and disturbance since his mother was killed in a car accident. His father Hollis (Paul) is never around to look after Jacob and Wes (Deke Garner), his 10 year old brother. After they set a truck on fire at a local baseball game, CPS removes Wes, while Jacob is sent to juvenile detention. Desperate to pick his family up and regain control of his life, Hollis cleans the house, does laundry and tries to repair their getaway house in Galveston in an attempt to start fresh. Jacob focuses all his time on trying to win a motocross race and prove to everyone that he isn’t just a violent screw up, but every time he is challenged he reacts poorly and continues to push everyone further away.
The coming of age theme with teenage males is certainly a continuing fad at SXSW and in mainstream cinema. Candler takes us into a really sad and unfortunate circumstance where these men want desperately to change their lives and circumstances but allow pain to get in the way. Paul really digs deep here; his face masked with a beard, doesn’t hide the emotional struggle of his character. Candler sat down with me and explained that she drew many of the examples in the film from stories she had heard in her own family, and that the mind of a teenager really interested her. The family behavior element can be seen in all of her films.
Candler’s script is equally sympathetic and realistic; “there are no villains,” she explained to me. I told her that I saw each character as their own worst enemy because they all want their situation to improve, but mentally and physically don’t know how to attain it. Candler has written something so stirring with love and, in the end, the acceptance of responsibility. Her final, and arguably most beautiful scene in the film, is stunning and heartbreaking. Candler’s Hellion rises above all the other films that focus on the same teenage male perspective and her understanding of humanity makes this a powerful piece of cinema.
Final Thought – A heartbreakingly beautiful film with unforgettable performances.
By: Dustin Chase
Kat Candler has been in the movie business a relatively long time as actor, editor, writer, producer, and director, and I’m sorry to say I was unaware of her work. In Hellion, she has created a magnificent piece that captures the essence of a family’s experience when the mother has died. All are in pain, and showing it in their own particular way. Hollis (Aaron Paul), the father, is simply not prepared to take on the task of rearing two sons during the process of grieving. The older boy, Jacob (Josh Wiggins), is dealing with it by acting out his anger on a motorbike and vandalism. The younger child, Deke (Wes Wilson), has such a sweet disposition, any anger he has is not apparent, and he looks up to his older brother to guide him—not such a good role model, of course.
The situation deteriorates to the point that Child Protective Services enters the picture and places Deke with his Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis), the mother’s sister. Neither Hollis nor Jacob have enough insight into their own behavior to see this is the best solution for Deke—who thrives with his aunt—and Jacob takes foolish measures to get him back.
Touching scenes in the film are those in which Hollis often heads to nearby Galveston to work on a house he was building for the family to move into when his wife was alive. That dream brings her close to him so he wants to finish it, despite the fact that now Jacob loathes leaving his fellow motor cross buddies and moving to another community. On top of that, Hollis has a drinking problem. Trouble comes to a head when Jacob decides his father is not doing enough to help the family, so he takes matters into his own hands, with the help of his friends, which only makes matters worse.
Hellion is so suspenseful, unlike many other films of its kind, the viewer never knows how it will end. You entertain various fantasies and misgivings, but it’s not really possible to predict until the last scene. Despite all the excitement in the film, it still comes across realistically as a true-to-life drama that is familiar to those of us who have observed grieving families.
During the Q&A after the screening, the host introducing Candler noted how many students are grateful for her teaching; she is highly revered in the Austin community, and I can see why. Every aspect of Hellion is noteworthy; Jeff Nichols, one of my favorite directors, is one of the executive producers, so he undoubtedly contributed to its quality, but I imagine Candler can stand on her own.
All of the acting is just as good. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as Hollis hits every note, as does Josh Wiggins (first film for him!). Juliette Lewis exudes such warmth and good sense from her character we’re drawn to her immediately.
This would be a fine movie for a family to see and talk about as it might apply to them, should they experience such a loss.