With Halloween night rapidly approaching, Bruce McDonald’s Hellions sounds like the perfect seasonal watch for a little post-witching-hour entertainment. McDonald previously asserted himself as a cult hero by teaming with Tony Burgess on Pontypool, a tremendously underrated take on zombie movies, and who doesn’t like a good thriller about vengeful trick ‘r treaters, à la Sam from Trick ‘r Treat?
Candy, kills, and shotguns sound like sweet Halloween treats to me, but Hellions is a messy slop of housebound Malickian horror that simply doesn’t deliver. It’s an unfortunate exercise in futilely that never approaches coherency, which will leave most viewers feeling like McDonald gave them dental floss instead of a Kit-Kat this Halloween.
Chloe Rose stars as young Dora Vogel, a high school slacker who discovers she’s pregnant with her boyfriend Jace’s (Luke Bilyk) child at the age of 17. She struggles to find a way to tell Jace and her mother, but decides it can wait until after Halloween passes, so she dresses up and awaits her ride to the night’s party. While she’s killing time, a trick ‘r treater comes in search of candy, who Dora humors. Another knock brings the same scarecrow-dressed child, along with his bucket-headed friend, but this time their focus isn’t on candy – it’s on Dora’s belly-bump. Shaken and afraid, Dora calls for help, but quickly learns she’s left alone to fight a growing collection of malevolent trick ‘r treaters who care more about Dora’s future child than they do about sweet candies.
If you’re craving a flurry of quick-cuts and dizzying cinematic re-dos, then Hellions is the cluttered catastrophe for you. Pascal Trottier’s screenplay materializes rather clearly at first, with a child-snatching nightmare brought upon by demonic Hell-children, but then a pinkish hue overtakes Dora’s home, and we enter a strange, new realm.
It’s still the same pumpkin patch/llama farm (what a combo), but Dora finds herself caught in an alternate universe where anything can happen – and it does. Dora could be escaping death through an exploding pumpkin minefield one minute, then, after the elongated chase ends, said scene simply resets without warning or explanation. Slightly-altered diversions like this make Hellions feel like a never-ending exercise in futility, replaying the same sequences in a handful of increasingly headache-inducing ways.
The problem is, McDonald never strives to untangle the twisted web of confusion that Trottier creates. Again, Hellions‘ actual plot isn’t that dense, but too much of this Blood-Moon-haze is left to audience perception. McDonald loves to let our imaginations run wild, but with so many never-before-seen shots included in horrific montages of severed heads and masked murderous “children,” we feel like we’re just drowning in palely-lit obscurities.
Hellions stitches together plenty of haunting images, between a decapitated doctor and many scenic outlooks littered with these creepy, tattered, trick ‘r treating demons, but Trottier’s storytelling feels straight and discombobulated. The rules of Dora’s survival are never outlined, and while I’m not an advocate of spoon-feeding, our minds are left to wander aimlessly into a Halloween-themed oblivion.
Playing along with old-school crop rituals of yesteryear, Hellions is built on folklore in an ambitiously creative way, which makes its disappointing nature so much more unfortunate. In a very Children Of The Corn kind of homage, the pack of children torment Dora with ease as they impose themselves based on unsettling costumes that are built for scares, not festivity. A chanting chorus of child voices cry out while Dora fights off the onslaught of evil little buggers, but even with a uniquely channeled soundtrack that’s all about playing off the inherent horrors of killer children, there’s nothing worth fearing as Dora struggles to survive. Not even when Dora is bound helpless, surrounded by masked deviants chanting “Blood for baby!”
This is one bummer of a review to write, because I wanted much better things for Hellions. Halloween is such a special time for horror fans, and a truly terrifying take on October 31st never ceases to hit the spot – Hellions just isn’t that film. It’s a jumbled mess of existential ideas, harvested souls, and out-of-place flashes of disturbing children that work better as a series of promotional stills than they do a fluid, jarring horror experience. Chloe Rose and Robert Patrick try to keep us on-edge with each attempt to reach safety, but you can only throw your hands in the air screaming “WHAT IN THE HOLY HELL IS HAPPENING” so many times before frustration sets in.
Hellions is a bigger Halloween bust than the house that gives out dental floss to trick 'r treaters.