Release: Friday, September 18, 2015 (limited)
Written by: Pascal Trottier
Directed by: Bruce McDonald
So if your ‘Netflix-and-chill’ night ever came down to a choice between sitting in total awkward silence and putting on a movie called Hellions, you’d be better off trying your luck with complete silence. Go ahead, make it as uncomfortable as possible by broaching the subject of how awkward it is to sit in silence like this. Your date may think you’re weird but, hey, you’ve just saved the evening from total ruination.
You do this because you appreciate them enough to not make them suffer through Hellions, a massively overproduced home invasion thriller that boils down to a teen defending herself against some psychotic trick-or-treaters who come a-knockin,’ but not for candy. Dora (Chloe Rose) is your typically moody 17-year-old stuck at home alone Halloween night. She has plans to have a quiet night at home with her boyfriend but her mom isn’t so cool with that, man.
Mom’s going to be taking Dora’s younger brother out trick-or-treating so she won’t be able to keep an eye on her. That doesn’t stop her from contradictorily encouraging her daughter to go out and “have fun tonight.” (Oh, she will! But she ain’t going out.) Within a few minutes of being by herself Dora’s already texting her boy-toy, wondering whether they’re still going to that party or not. Then, a knock at the door. Rather than the handsome mug of the teen we’re expecting it to be, we’re greeted by a pretty evil-looking little tyke who seems to forget it’s customary to say “trick-or-treat” at the door on All Hallow’s Eve. After some substantial tension Dora sends the kid away, a little taken aback by both the mask and his odd behavior.
A couple more near-wordless scenes succeed in further quickening your pulse as Dora starts noticing kids standing in groups on all sides of the house, as if in preparation for an organized attack. Still no word from her boyfriend and it’s getting dark outside. Oh, how ignorance is bliss, for what ensues in the next half of the film (all of maybe 40 minutes) is nothing short of bizarre — not the kind of bizarre that gives horror a good name but the kind that becomes really difficult to watch, physically difficult.
What begins as a relatively compelling assault on the house by a group of kids with mischief in mind devolves into a patently absurd mix of poorly-conceived supernatural and demonic elements that makes Hellions next to impossible to categorize as either. Is this some kind of supernatural event this Blood Moon, or are the kids a bunch of evil E.T.’s? Then the mind starts to really wander: ‘What is a ‘hellion?’ Is that like a balloon? No, now I’m thinking about helium.’ Turns out, it’s a term of endearment for a misbehaving child. Or in this case, child actors instructed to wear a variety of freaky masks and superimposed (badly) against a pixelated, apocalyptic background.
I guess this is the part where I probably should say Dora has recently discovered she’s four weeks pregnant (gasp, she’s only seventeen!). Why’s this important? As it so happens, this is what the children have come for. They’re looking for a blood sacrifice, as they presumably do every year, and Dora’s the lucky victim. I can hear you saying now: ‘but the baby’s only four weeks old!’ Yes, that’s true. But this is pregnancy on steroids, you see, as the child fully develops within the span of the movie, subjecting the mother (or is it more politically correct to call her the host?) to all kinds of misery while her house is under siege. And the evil that’s outside will not go away until they get what they’ve come for.
On the surface, it’s not a bad premise. I can think of few things more unsettling than complicated pregnancy, and when you start talking about the potential of it being inhuman, well that’s just. . . . Also noted: the involvement of mostly child actors as the collective evil force is an inspired twist. Their speaking parts aren’t demanding, all they really do is repeat her name in a collective eerie chant that vaguely recalls Rosemary’s Baby, but their presence is certainly felt and one of the strengths of the film. But as time winds on, even they become lost in another CGI mess that’s as ugly as it is uninteresting.
You know how some movies become great fun when the poor quality and execution eventually give way to unintentional comedy, the kind of B-movie that you play drinking games during? Yeah, well this isn’t one of those. This is just horror botched. The problem is more fundamental than that even: it’s botched storytelling. It’s botched filmmaking.
Though not for a lack of creativity. If there’s anything Hellions proves it’s that the filmmakers — or I should say, whoever oversaw the final cut — were pretty creative in trying to cover up the glaring fact that the story is rather anorexic. All kinds of visual wizardry is put to ‘good’ use, not least of which being some seriously ill-advised music video-esque CGI that turns the picture shades of red and blue; several sequences are sliced, diced and recycled in a concerted effort to confuse and confound; a cacophony of loud noises and the aforementioned chants lay the psychological fuckery on thick, in case everything else hasn’t.
Recommendation: Hellions is the epitome of style over substance and a great example of how badly that flaw can detract from a director’s vision. It’s okay if you rely on some style to complement a certain mood or atmosphere that can’t be achieved any other way, but when the style becomes the only thing viewers notice, you’ve gone a bit too far. Hellions goes several feet too far. Unfortunately there’s really not much here to recommend to genre fans or those looking for something random on Netflix. I’d go with something else.
Running Time: 80 mins.
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