No one wants a horror movie ridden with cliche scares and plot points, but there is something to be said for one that can tap into familiar territory but deliver a fresh take on it. Director Bruce McDonald certainly tries to do something along those lines with Hellions, but the traditional Halloween shenanigans are far more entertaining than the muddled surreal spin he puts on them.
The movie centers on a teenager named Dora (Chloe Rose). It’s Halloween and she’s looking forward to a fun night out with her boyfriend Jace (Luke Bilyk) – until she finds out that she’s pregnant with his kid. She manages to pull herself together and commit to going out, but while waiting for Jace to pick her up, a group of mischievous trick-or-treaters target her house. At first she brushes off their antics as playful holiday pranks, but she soon comes to realize that they’ve got a far more sinister agenda in mind. They want her unborn baby.
Hellions starts off well enough thanks to Rose. Anyone could guess the reason she’s going to the clinic well before Doctor Henry (Rossif Sutherland) delivers the news, but Rose has more than enough natural charisma to sell Dora as a very likable lead with a mind of her own, sparking curiosity regarding how she’s going to deal with the scenario.
But then, of course, being pregnant becomes the least of her worries. A creepy kid donning a burlap sack mask (a wannabe Sam from Trick ‘r Treat) shows up at her door. Dora gives him some candy and heads back inside without incident, but a little while later he returns with another kid wearing a semi-crushed bucket with an eerie face carved into it. This continues until Dora’s got a whole army of freakish trick-or-treaters outside her home smashing pumpkins, giggling and humming this bizarre and tiresome song over and over. A lot of it does feel pretty sinister and might even make you think twice if unsupervised children in unusual costumes show up at your door on Halloween night, but when McDonald takes a turn for the psychedelic and surreal, the terror of the situation completely disappears.
At one point, the color palette is flooded by a pink light, presumably signifying that Dora has crossed over into a dreamlike state of sorts and it’s a big problem for a number of reasons. First off, it’s harsh, ugly and distracting, and second, it takes away from the mystery of the story. The movie opens with a shot of Dora hooked up to an IV in a hospital before flashing back to her cuddling with Jace beside a pumpkin patch. The otherworldly quality McDonald establishes does make you feel trapped to a degree, but at the same time, because you know where the story is going, it doesn’t feel nearly as threatening as it should be.
The lack of rules regarding the trick-or-treaters, their goals and their realm is also extremely problematic. Based on the look of the film, you’d think that Dora is the one who’s trapped there, but apparently other townsfolk can traipse in as well. At one point, Doctor Henry gets caught up in the madness and then so does a painfully underdeveloped town cop played by Robert Patrick. Neither add much to the narrative or the mythology. They’re primarily there so that Dora can get her hands on a shotgun and so that we can get some additional carnage. They’re fleeting thrills that add nothing to the big picture. Their screen time would have been much better spent focusing on Dora’s efforts to figure out what’s happening and how to beat it.
Ultimately Hellions is a fraction of a film that goes absolutely nowhere. There are some solid visuals and mildly interesting plot points peppered throughout, but all are rendered meaningless thanks to McDonald’s extremely heavy-handed use off genre iconography, and his exceedingly confusing and trippy execution.
Click here for all of our TIFF 2015 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below:
- 45 Years
- Beasts of No Nation
- Being Charlie
- Black Mass
- The Danish Girl
- Eye in the Sky
- Green Room
- I Smile Back
- The Iron Giant: Signature Edition
- Kill Your Friends
- The Lobster
- Maggie’s Plan
- The Martian
- Men & Chicken
- Our Brand Is Crisis
- The Program
- The Wave
- Where to Invade Next