A successful horror movie needs to be able to blend effective atmosphere with effective narrative to produce a creepy tale that draws from real-life fears. The slightest nudge in the wrong direction can lead the film astray, and relying on one over the other can fall flat. Fortunately though, in the case of movies like Hellions, this can play to its advantage — in this case, its style, instead of its content, freaked me the hell out.
From Canadian director and cult-film favourite Bruce McDonald, whose excellent Pontypool brought a fresh take on the done-to-death zombie genre, Hellions is the story of Dora (Chloe Rose), a rebellious teen who discovers she’s pregnant on Halloween. Despondent and deciding to stay home on Halloween night this year, Dora starts getting harassed by some strange trick-or-treaters. What starts with aggressive knocks and smashed jack-o’-lanterns turns into an all-out assault on Dora’s home — these “kids” are out for her blood.
The narrative in Hellions is jumbled and not particularly ambitious. It tries to introduce a mythology that doesn’t quite stick and runs away with itself during the film’s more non-linear scenes. This results in little character progression for most of the film and some repetitive action (Dora runs, Dora hides, Dora screams; repeat). It’s not the most elegant metaphor for the horrors of childbirth, or the most coherent one, but the links between terrifying children forcing you inside your own home and the fear and helplessness of a young woman forced to deal with an unexpected pregnancy isn’t lost on the viewer. There are glimpses of films like the universally-praised The Babadook in Hellions, which positions Dora as literally trapped within her home at the mercy of malevolent forces. The film doesn’t shy away from explicitly drawing parallels between these demon kids mocking Dora for not wanting a child and the ways our society treats women who seek abortions or openly admit to not wanting children.
Where Hellions really succeeds, though, is in the style department. Dora’s picturesque town is painted in eerie, washed-out pastels when things start to get weird, and McDonald’s tight framing succeeds at instilling a sense of claustrophobia in the viewer. Dora is trapped in her basement, in an outhouse, even within ominous sheets drying on a laundry line, and the sharp angles of these scenes are tense and unnerving. A haunting score of chanting, sing-song children is effective and chilling, and a cameo performance from the T-1000 himself, Richard Patrick, as police chief Mike adds a pulpy appeal to the film that gives us a few fun moments to breathe. At a tight 84 minutes, Hellions is nothing if not relentless, and despite my criticisms of its narrative progression, the deeply creepy ambiance was so effective I wouldn’t have cut a single minute.
Hellions had its world premiere at TIFF15 as part of Vanguard Programme.
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