By Al Downham
Ryerson film graduate Bruce McDonald directed Hellions, a movie full of kids far scarier than their costumes.
McDonald — who also directed 2009 horror-classic Pontypool — released Hellions at Sundance Film Festival in January, but for the sake of festivity, fuck it. Who releases a Halloween movie outside of October anyways?
Hellions centers around Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose), a smalltown teenager looking to get #faded on Halloween with her smart-mouthed boyfriend. But after a visit to doctor Henry (Rossif Sutherland), Vogel is informed of an unexpected pregnancy.
Her pregnancy is the catalyst for Hellion’s sinister plot, unfolding after Dora hands candy to trick ‘r treaters. As night creeps over, one crowd knocks suspiciously late. Instead of seeing bags of candy, Vogel opens the door to find her boyfriend’s head in one child’s burlap sack. Dora becomes trapped inside, fighting hordes of hellions bent on taking her unborn baby.
The film takes influence from various styles in horror including home invasion (When A Stranger Calls), slasher (Child’s Play) and occult (Rosemary’s Baby and Children Of The Corn) flicks. But it’s this unique combination that muddles Hellions’ pacing.
The hellions, like many slasher villains — including Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface — rarely speak. In many horror flicks, writers rely on mundane dialogue between protagonists and supporting characters to keep audiences engaged. Yet, when Dora barricades herself inside, viewers are stuck in a dark home failing to entertain by atmosphere alone. Instances of intense dialogue and kills arise later, but leaves the rising action padded as a McDonald’s Playspace. However, Hellions is thoughtful and entertaining when it doesn’t drag its heels. The film’s cinematography resembles that of nightmares, often flushed in deep reds and purples. Its score of whispering and chanting children is strangely haunting.
Poetic devices used in the film also set it above average home invasion or slasher films, simultaneously sticking to classic tropes. The Hellions personify Dora’s impending responsibility of parenthood, leaving her with feelings of fear and anger. Symbolizing the protagonist’s comparatively comfortable life before pregnancy, the home is mercilessly attacked by children.
Unable to handle the stress, Dora escapes from the madness by dreaming of miscarrying. But as the baby’s development fastens at inhuman rates as the film progresses, hopelessness and desperation inevitably fills her thoughts.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s intriguing themes on teenage pregnancy are barely discussed meaningfully in any dialogue, risking the possibility of becoming another film combining various tropes.
Hellions ambitiously combines classic horror genres, stepping above the average ham-fisted scare flick. But without proper pacing, viewers may be looking for simple entertainment, let alone a deeper meaning.