hellion2Is HELLION a metaphor for contemporary North American society? Does it show the trickle-down effect of a government more concerned with individual merit than with looking after the weakest members of its community? Or could it perhaps be a promotional piece for Hilary Clinton’s potential run for the presidency in 2016 – you know – it’s time for a maternal figure to lead America because the guys are getting it all wrong? But maybe that hypothesis is a step too far. It’s a great film, but maybe not a Clinton electioneering aid.

Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul stars as emotionally absent single father Hollis, left to look after his two sons following his wife’s death. Juliette Lewis plays Paul’s on-screen sister, who must look after the younger of the two boys when older brother Jacob, played by newcomer Josh Wiggins, goes a bit too far down the line of “hey, let’s break into places, burn things, smash things up.” Drama ensues.

It’s almost reminiscent of Daniel Patrick Carbone’s HIDE YOUR SMILING FACE in its portrayal of tempestuous and troubled youth in a small-town American setting. Both films feature handguns, that staple ingredient of the American psyche that can be called upon in times of emotional unrest to really mess things up. The general rule of thumb goes that when a gun is introduced in a film, it’s just a matter of time before it goes off. Introduce youth culture into that mix and the explosion is all the more volatile.

How can this be the same boy we saw in an earlier scene, setting fire to a stack of pallets?

The narrative focus of the film shifts back and forth between father and son, and just where and when they decide to take responsibility for their actions. Wiggins’ character, teenager Jacob who looks after his little brother in his father’s absence, is the more emotional of the two. In fact he is almost constantly in an aggravated strop throughout the film, presumably in reaction to the weight of responsibility upon his shoulders. There are some truly moving moments in the film; quiet moments that demand you to sit up and focus on just what is going on. Younger brother Wes, played by Deke Garner, asks his aunt to sit with him whilst he falls asleep. Auntie Juliette Lewis sits with him, but the two elephants in the room are the boy’s deceased mother, and father, by this point absent due to the intervention of Child Protection Services. How can this be the same boy we saw in an earlier scene, setting fire to a stack of pallets and pedalling away from the scene of the crime? This scene is far more moving than those which focus on older brother Jacob shouting and smashing things up.

It’s a pleasure to watch a bearded Aaron Paul on the big screen, away from the world of Breaking Bad – which is usually (but not always) enjoyed on smaller screens. He has real presence and doesn’t utter a single “Yo”. This is a mature study on the breakdown in a family following the crumbling away of parental responsibility – made all the more impressive by the fact it is director Kat Candler’s debut feature. HELLION is a really assertive introductory offer from this film production lecturer at the University of Texas.