Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Bruce McDonald
Writer: Pascal Trottier
Producer: Frank Siracusa, Paul Lenart
Stars: Chloe Rose, Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson, Peter DaCunha, Luke Bilyk, Robert Patrick
A pregnant teenager home alone on Halloween must defend herself against an onslaught of devilish trick-or-treaters.
Prepare for polarization. At one end of “Pontypool” director Bruce McDonald’s “Hellions” is a mound of moody madness and stylish scares. At the other sits a heap of baffling background and ambiguous artistry. Whichever side sways most is what tips the scale determining who leaves frightened and who leaves frustrated.
Dora has received news from her doctor that no 17-year-old girl wishes to hear. But with mother and brother out trick-or-treating and boyfriend Jace on his way to a party, conversations about clinics or discussions of diapers will have to wait for Halloween to pass.
Home alone for the holiday, Dora answers each door knock to be greeted by mask-wearing mischief-makers bearing candy sacks and silent stares. These are no ordinary costumed kids, however. These are nightmares in flesh form with a secretly sinister agenda to terrorize Dora, and to tear out her unborn baby.
Mixing elements of “Ils” and “The Strangers” with “Inside” (review here) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the strong start to “Hellions” comes from an early uncertainty as to what type of thriller it even is. The setup teases touches of paranormal pregnancy, home invasion horror, and supernatural slasher in ways where the distinct lack of rules for how perception is played with creates a “stay on guard” sense of heightened alert and constant questions.
It isn’t just the who and the why of the diminutive demons that is unknown. Everything about the film’s fiction is up in the air. This increasingly bizarre mystery marks an initially fascinating way for the film to foster suspense while the audience takes the same arc as Dora in frantically finding out exactly what is happening to the tormented teen and her weird surrounding world.
“Hellions” keeps its hooks firmly embedded with atypical visuals hypnotizing in parallel to the tone. “Hellions” may be the only horror movie choosing to filter its hue through a chromatic pink color instead of the usual giallo green, red, or deep blue most films use. There is probably some metaphoric meaning relating to the pregnancy plotline or the October sky’s blood moon overhead, but the look is so unique that it commands engagement simply for being a seldom seen style.
Then “Hellions” enters its wind-down and the piper suddenly ceases his mesmerizing tune. The film turns out to take place in some sort of vaguely defined state of surrealness, which in and of itself is not an issue. Lack of logic in a dreamlike realm is to be expected. But McDonald and screenwriter Pascal Trottier dunk content and context so deep into questionable symbolism that an audience is poised to feel duped into investing in an incomplete narrative.
Just as the movie loses itself in allegorical substance, one can become lost trying to divine meaning behind Dora’s mindset manifestations and fears of parenthood made flesh, and still not come closer to understanding the true intent of the film. Even if McDonald and Trottier revealed a definitive definition for every seemingly random element in the movie, there would still be a question regarding how much believability to place in the notion that hiding this much interpretive subtext was their intention from the start.
The surreal setting bears down hard and a nyah-nyah-nyah soundtrack of children’s voices grows gratingly cacophonous. By this point, plenty of people will mentally, and perhaps literally, head for the exit with understandable justification on their side. For anyone more overwhelmed by the force and feel of the film’s first half, imagery still burns strong, even with possibly illegitimate purpose.
“Hellions” has a terrific style, though it uses that style to explore territory too abstract to qualify the Halloween-set film as essential October 31st viewing alongside “Trick 'r Treat,” “Halloween,” or “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” Yet when separated from the fluff of its disappointing denouement, there remains a disturbingly dark fairy tale in the movie's core capable of leaving a lasting impression.
There’s no accurate way to predict on which side of the line any given person will stand once the cloud clears. The only prudent advice is to tell potential viewers of “Hellions” to be ready for either possible outcome: admiration or aversion.
Review Score: 75