Something about the label Hellion implies a sense of impish fun and mischief. But 13-year-old Jacob Wilson (Josh Wiggins) sets fires, trashes vehicles in the parking lot while his fellow Texans enjoy a high school football game and has so much rage in him that he’s already a familiar figure to the cops.
Jacob is the unlikely anti-hero of Hellion, a messed-up kid taking out his hurt and resentment on most of those around him, especially his dad (Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad), Hollis.
Something bad happened in this family. Hollis, a carpenter, crawls into a beer can, even on those weekends when he’s hammering away at the family’s dream house, a vacation getaway in nearby Galveston that represents a last link to the absent mother in this household of males. Jacob’s run-ins with the law are not solo, but he’s got a code — “I don’t rat out my crew.”
And lectures from Hollis don’t carry any weight — “Take responsibility, Jacob.” Dad doesn’t seem to be very good at that, either.
The real tragedy here is 10-year-old Wes (Deke Garner), who idolizes Jacob and wants to run with his self-destructive/property-destroying “crew.” Jacob is young enough and delusional enough that he means it when he tells the kid brother, “I swear I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Hellion is an accident waiting to happen, a tragedy unfolding. Latchkey kids, hyped up on sugary sodas, junk food and speed metal, bored when dad takes Jacob’s motorbike away, are headed for trouble. Juliette Lewis is the kindly aunt — sister of their dead mom — who figures in the story when Jacob’s many run-ins with the law bring the cops and child welfare down on the family.
Hellion is involving, sobering and very well-acted, with nice turns by young Wiggins and especially by Paul — playing a broken man who has just enough of a grasp of what he’s supposed to be doing to realize the life-scarring mistakes he’s making with these boys.
As coming-of-age melodramas go, Hellion offers a rare and engrossing glimpse into a working class nightmare, a lifestyle of indulged biker-kids, guns, violence and beer that is every bit the trap we consider our inner cities to be.
Cast: Josh Wiggins, Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Deke Garner.
Writer-director: Kat Candler.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 99 minutes. Vulgar language, brief violence, adult themes. Opens Friday June 20 in Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Wynwood