In the grim, Southeast Texas-set “Hellion,” writer-director Kat Candler offers no relief for the unhappy father and son whose bad behavior sends them falling into ever deeper despair.
Candler’s realism is admirable, as are the actors’ emotionally wrenching performances. But those qualities also make “Hellion” a tough sell. There’s a great deal of pain in this drama about a father and two boys who’ve lost their wife and mother.
Aaron Paul, who won an Emmy for his performance as the meth dealer Jesse Pinkman in “Breaking Bad,” plays Hollis Wilson, a grieving, drinking refinery worker who’s failing badly at being a single dad. Josh Wiggins, making his feature-film debut, co-stars as Hollis’ eldest son, Jacob, the film’s hellion.
Paul and Wiggins’ characters are the troubled souls who propel a succession of unhappy events in “Hellion.” Both actors do affecting work.
Following his mother’s death and father’s temporary disappearance, Jacob, an angry 13-year-old, engages in random acts of vandalism. On the occasions when Wiggins expresses Jacob’s pain through words, “Hellion” becomes a real tearjerker.
Juliette Lewis does commendable work, too, as the boys’ worried Aunt Pam. Likewise Deke Garner as Jacob’s innocent little brother, Wes.
Technically, Lewis is a supporting player, but her performance as the maternal aunt who takes Wes in — following an intervention by child protective services — is one of the story’s cornerstones. The actress didn’t let the film’s small budget and short production schedule stop her from doing work of the highest order.
“Hellion” has many strong points. But the bleak subject matter makes for an unsettling moviegoing experience.