Texas youth Jacob Wilson (Josh Wiggins) is in his terrible teens. When he’s not antagonizing his alcoholic widowed father, Hollis (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, doing kingly brooding), and impressionable brother, Wes (Deke Garner), he’s out setting fires and raising hell. Kat Candler’s affecting if derivative drama catches up with this seething protagonist at a critical moment: Jacob’s latest escapades have landed him in juvie day camp (he’s free to go home at night). Plus, a social worker wants to place younger Wes with the family’s well-adjusted aunt, Pam (Juliette Lewis). It’s clear that if Jacob doesn’t get his act together soon, he’ll be scarred for life.
Hellion aims to cut deep, striking a tone that melds the hysterical moralism of Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) with the coming-of-age melancholy of Mud’s Jeff Nichols (also this film’s executive producer). The movie is best in its more observational moments, as when Jacob and Wes engage in some couch-jumping tomfoolery while home alone, or when Hollis tries to save face after his elder son’s spectacular public meltdown in a restaurant. A whole movie could be made from these poignant asides, and the cast is uniformly superb in rendering them. Sadly, the film also features a fair share of forced drama involving a loaded gun, a botched home invasion and a climax that lays on the pity-our-youth sermonizing molasses-thick.
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