Written by: Pascal Trottier
Directed by: Bruce McDonald
Starring: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, and Rachel Wilson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
This Halloween, Hell Comes Knocking.
Halloween is a holiday preoccupied with barriers, whether they’re between the living and the dead or the real and the unreal. While several films have couched themselves in All Hallows’ Eve festivities, few are concerned with exploring the ethereal spaces between these barriers, content instead to lean on cultural touchstones like so much window dressing. Not that there’s anything wrong with cribbing some ambiance from the most atmospheric holiday, but you appreciate that rare film that bobs for apples and doesn’t flinch when it comes back with a razor blade wedged into its mouth. Hellions isn’t just unwavering in this respect—it’s downright fervent to dive right into the bleak, mind-warping core lurking beneath the candy-coated center of Halloween, plunging its audience into a feverish ordeal, entangling them in a suffocating All Hallows’ Eve wormhole.
Languishing amongst pumpkin patches and cheap decorations in a podunk Canadian town, Dora (Chloe Rose) wants nothing more than to skip class and smoke joints with her burnout boyfriend, much to the dismay of her mother, a former prom queen who just wants to see her 17-year-old survive long enough to make it to prom (and this is not to mention graduation). This particular Halloween brings a seriously mean trick when Dora discovers she’s four-weeks pregnant, a revelation that puts a damper on her plans for the evening. With her mom out trick-or-treating with her little brother and her boyfriend suddenly scarce, Dora finds herself home alone—at least until a group of particularly insistent trick-or-treaters arrive to raise hell.
A well-worn premise is turned on its head almost immediately here. These kids are perhaps a familiar sight when they arrive, at least in the sense that there’s been no shortage of masked strangers staging home invasions in this genre. And yet, there’s something disconcerting and particularly menacing about this bunch, even before they show up with a decapitated head at the bottom of their candy bag. Clad in vintage Halloween attire, the group looks as if they’ve arrived out of an early-20th century time capsule that’s been exhumed for the express purpose of dragging unwitting victims to a forlorn netherworld. Even before the film makes it explicit, there’s a preternatural spookiness to these pint-sized maniacs hell-bent on wrecking Dora’s night.
What begins as a nuisance for Dora quickly escalates into a hellish ordeal—quite literally. Before long, Hellions gives the impression of what it might be like to trick-or-treat in the bleak hellscape from The Beyond. Reality begins to bend around Dora, who is soon unable to process the fever dream logic drowning her. Attempts to come up for air are futile: would-be rescuers arrive only to add to the body count, while escaping her home only sends her staggering out into some sort of negative mirror universe, where night has suddenly become day (imagine if Inside had also stumbled onto one of Fucli's Gates of Hell). Dusk and dawn become blurred by Norayr Kasper’s infrared lensing, a stark stylistic choice that heightens the already otherworldly atmosphere.
At the helm is Bruce McDonald, director of the brain-scrambling Pontypool, here expanding upon that film’s dizzying, disorienting vibe. But where that film was a cerebral exercise, Hellions is more guttural—McDonald might be interested a mind fuck, but only after he’s ripped out your intestines first. If Pontypool wormed into your brain and rewired it from the inside, then this one smashes your frontal lobe, searing the optic nerves with a flurry of indelible images, each more inexplicable than the last: severed heads feel quaint once bodies begin to dissolve in salt and pumpkin patches transform into minefields, creating a cacophonous swirl that continues to earn any comparisons to Fulci, whose spirit lives on in this film’s potent blend of supernatural imagery and lucid splatter.
Like the Maestro, McDonald is less interested in plot and more invested in capturing the fleeting spaces between nightmares and daydreams, between the vivid and the phantasmagoric. This hazy essence of Halloween has rarely been captured as elegantly as it is in Hellions, a film that thrives on blurred lines and warped realities. Caught in the devilish whirlwind is Dora, a troubled but sweet girl whose muted desperation almost feels like resigned bewilderment. Rose’s understated but sturdy turn captures Dora’s own delicate positioning: perched on her own threshold between childhood and adulthood, she finds herself trapped in a feedback loop of her own anxieties, particularly her impending motherhood.
In a cruel twist of fate, this maternal angst arrives on a holiday aimed at children; as her own youth melts away, her choice of costume—a snow white dress with angel wings—becomes a striking symbol of her frantic struggle to reclaim an innocence that’s been irrecoverably lost in the cracks, a cruel trick in the guise of an unwanted treat. In a film full of unforgettable images, the crimson splatter on Dora’s dress emerges as the most unforgettable, a scarlet stain on a blood-spattered angel caught somewhere between heaven and hell.
Hellions is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
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