Hellions is a 2015 horror thriller film directed by Bruce McDonald. The film had its world premiere on 25 January 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival and stars Chloe Rose as a pregnant teenager who must fight for her life against horrific monsters
I hate to admit it, but it took me awhile to decide what to make of Hellions. There were several reasons I was looking forward to seeing it. First, I enjoyed one of director Bruce McDonald’s earlier works, Pontypool (2008). Second, Hellions is written by Pascal Trottier, one of the writers of The Colony (2013), which is another film I liked. He also wrote one of my favorite segments of A Christmas Horror Story (2015), the tale of a family going into the woods to pick out and cut down their Christmas tree. Third, Robert Patrick is in the cast. And finally, a good friend whose judgment I value gave Hellions a strong recommendation. I really wanted to like it. Really! But I didn’t. Then I did.
The film opens with Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose), a 17-year-old girl, slowly walking down the corridor of a hospital in a patient’s gown, pulling an IV stand by her side. When she reaches a glass pane at the end of the corridor, she raises her hand to the glass. Several people move around her as she traverses the corridor – a nurse, a doctor, a visitor, another patient – but nobody seems to notice her.
We immediately cut to a scene on Halloween. Dora and her boyfriend, Jace (Luke Biyk), are lying under a tree on the edge of the Vogel family’s pumpkin farm, smoking pot. Dora suddenly realizes she is late for a doctor’s appointment and rides off on her bicycle to the doctor’s office. There, she learns from Dr. Henry (Rossif Sutherland) that she is four weeks pregnant. She almost immediately has her first hallucination and sees a pool of blood spreading under a figurine of a hog on the doctor’s table. The vision passes and, stunned by the news she has received, she leaves the doctor’s office and heads home on her bike. Part way home, she takes a shortcut, and while walking her bike through a woods, seems to hear the sounds of voices on an intercom. Hallucination number two. Once home, she smokes some more pot on the porch roof outside her bedroom window, and then goes in to take a bath. While in the bathtub, she has another hallucination. In this one, the bathtub is filling with blood flowing from her womb. As she stares down in horror, the head of an inhuman fetus breaks the surface of the blood-red water.
The vision passes and after getting out of the tub, Dora looks out her window and sees Baghead, a trick-or-treater with a burlap bag over his head standing on the road, staring up at her. I assume he is one of the hellions to which the title refers. As time goes on, Baghead makes repeated appearances: trick-or-treating at the door, looking in or walking by the window, alone or with other hellions. During one of these repeat appearances, Baghead shows up to trick-or-treat with Buckethead, another hellion but with a bucket over his head. He reaches up and touches Dora’s stomach, leaves a bloody handprint on her white, winged-angel costume, and croaks the word, “Mama.” She doubles over in pain, clutching her stomach and rushes in side to vomit. When she is somewhat recovered, Dora calls Dr. Henry and tells him something is very wrong with her. The good doctor agrees and tells Dora he will be right over. The next time Baghead and friends show up at the door, Dora sees her boyfriend’s head in the bag of candy and she immediately calls 911. The eventual respondent to her call, is her friend, Sheriff Mike Corman (Robert Patrick). Without giving too much away, from this point on, shit gets real weird.
There are a multitude of signs that something is definitely not right with this town. As Dora rides her bike through town on her way to the doctor’s office, we see a church sign that reads “Happy Hell o Ween! JS_” We also hear church bells ringing on Halloween even though it’s a Friday. Three kids in costumes are poking the carcass of a mutilated raccoon with a stick. Nearly everyone in town except the Sheriff is wearing a costume. Even the doctor is in costume when he informs Dora of her pregnancy, adding a sense of the absurd to the scene. And when she first arrives at Dr. Henry’s office, Dora tells Mike, “If it wasn’t for Halloween, this town would probably just vanish right off the map.” So yeah, something is definitely not right.
A third of the way into the movie, time seems to have very little meaning and it’s impossible to tell the real from the surreal. The hands on the house clock spin wildly at one point. Time stamps on texts between Dora and Jace do not match the timeline of the story. One text is responded to at a time before it was sent. Another text seems to occur on October 31, but the date on the phone is November 1. Dr. Henry tells Dora she is four weeks pregnant, but hours later, he is astounded as he determines she is now four months pregnant. Events that appear to be surreal are later returned to as if they are the reality, and what you thought was reality is the hallucination. Even though the windows and doors are all closed, a strong wind whips the curtains and sends objects flying around the inside of the house. The entire landscape seems to be viewed through a pink or orange filter which only adds to the nightmarish quality of the story.
On one hand, Pascal Trottier’s script has the characters making very logical decisions with the information they have in the situations with which they are confronted. But even though there is logic to the character’s decisions and actions, there is no logic to the story. It’s far too surrealistic and nightmarish for logic to crack its shell.
All the actors were believable in their roles. Chloe Rose spends by far the most time on screen. The film’s success depends heavily on her and she proves to be up to the challenge. Robert Patrick, currently appearing in the NBC series, Scorpions, will be remembered by most genre fans as the T1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and more recently in Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey channel series, From Dusk Till Dawn, and the HBO series, True Blood. I always enjoy watching him and this film is no exception as he fleshes out his character from comically put upon local sheriff to potential hero to grieving husband and father. Rossif Sutherland also does a good job in his portrayal of a doctor caught up in dire situations and manages to carry it off despite the distraction of the prosthetic ears of his costume. He has recently appeared in the Syfy series, Haven; the CW series, Reign, as Nostradamus; and as a recurring character in the series Crossing Lines, in which his father, Donald Sutherland, stars.
I also loved the look of Hellions. The Cinematography by Norayr Kasper had the look of small town America when it needed to at the beginning of the film, and the look of an otherworldly landscape in the latter parts of the film. Production designer Andrew Berry and set decorator Sasha Tolstoy managed to create sets which at times seemed to be from a typical farming community and at other times exuded an air of creepiness elicited by the figurines, artifacts, and other items visible in a shot.
After my first viewing, I would’ve rated Hellions a 2 on a scale of 5 because I had no idea what happened. I also have a personal bias against music in horror films that is obviously patterned after toddler’s nursery rhymes and played slightly off-key and off-speed in an attempt to create an unsettling atmosphere. This type of musical device is used in Hellions and it really put me off during my first viewing.
But I’ve watched Hellions four or five times over the last couple weeks and I think I’ve come under the film’s spell. On each subsequent viewing, Hellions was more and more effective at causing the hair on my neck to standup, and I was less and less concerned with understanding exactly what had occurred. Even the singsong juvenile chanting I disliked so much became an integral part of the experience and lost its grating irritation.
So to come full circle, I wanted to like Hellions, but at first take I didn’t. Then after multiple viewings, I really liked it. In fact, I plan to make Hellions an annual Halloween watch. I don’t expect to understand it next year either, but I do expect an exponential dose of the heebie-jeebies.
In the end, I would not recommend this film if you like straightforward, logical plots with a defined conclusion. But after multiple viewings and a lot of thought, I’m giving Hellions a 4 out of 5 bucket-headed little demons. But that’s just me.