The pregnancy from hell is by no means a new staple of horror. The bright eyed young thing’s world collapsing around her, as she struggles to deal with her budding demon seed, has had audiences clutching their abdomens since the genre of parasitic horror was first conceived. HELLIONS takes no shame in not being the first to breach this trope. Instead it seems to revel in both this, and a whole hoard of other classic tropes from the golden age of slasher horror.
Dora (Chloe Rose), a 17 year old from a postcard small town, is informed on Halloween that she is pregnant. As the night wears on, strange masked “children” begin tormenting her, desperate to get their little bloody hands on the “baby” growing inside her. Rather than wasting time by introducing a parade of supporting characters, to later be used as cannon fodder, the film focuses almost entirely on Dora. As the situation escalates, it’s on Chloe Rose’s winged shoulders to carry most of the film and convey the disorienting horror of the situation. Rose manages to keep Dora real, neither too competent nor oblivious. She believably has the wherewithal to realise she should load her shotgun with salt, but also ends up wasting most of her shells shooting at shadows.
Occasionally by Dora’s side is the town sheriff, played by Robert Patrick. Presented like an old school action hero, he initially seems to have the best sense of what is going on. However, as things rapidly deteriorate, his dead eyes soon indicate that he may not be Dora’s ticket to safety. Patrick subtly transitions the sheriff into someone who is also being consumed by the nightmare.
The children’s rotten masks and grubby claws are all the film needs…
The violence in HELLIONS is what best sells its love of classic slashers. It doesn’t shy away from blood and pain, with one particularly memorable scene featuring the use of a stapler as a DIY suture. However, just like its predecessors it knows how to pace itself. The moments of violence are staggered enough not to leave one callous by the end, but instead are played in a manner that even the obligatory dragged-by-the-ankles-into-the-darkness scene can leave a horror glutton at least a little shaken.
Another part of what makes HELLIONS so charming is its unambitious aesthetic. The children’s rotten masks and grubby claws are all the film needs to build something visually unnerving. There is no attempt to attack us with intangible CGI creatures: the classic faceless killers are all this film needs.
What’s sure to be the most contentious topic in future discussions of the film is HELLIONS’ surreal narrative. While it begins with the standard question of “will she or won’t she survive?”, it begins to break down, leaving the audience questioning whether this is Dora’s physical or literal nightmare. This could prove divisive for audiences, leaving some dissatisfied with the lack of clarity, and others embracing the unusual.
HELLIONS is sure to join HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH as required viewing for Halloween slumber parties – and maybe there’s even a chance we’ll see a few jagged toothed bucket heads and sack boys wandering the streets this October.