Teenage rebellion in the sundrenched plains of Texas is the subject of Kat Candler’s Hellion (2014), an ultimately unremarkable drama starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, with a breakout performance by 14-year-old Josh Wiggins. Wiggins plays Jacob, the rough-and-tumble adolescent seen at the beginning of the film smashing up cars outside the local sports stadium, a teenager sweating his rage and without a cause left. He’s caught by local cops and sent to juvie, but allowed home at night, where he shares space with his emotionally distant father, played by Paul. Soon the authorities call in to take away Jacob’s younger brother Wes and into the care of their well-to-do aunt (Juliette Lewis).
The emotional background to the story – the recent loss of the children’s mother Rebecca – is given away slowly, which adds much to the richness of each character in finding their motivations. Paul, whose career has gone from the dumb (Need for Speed) to the daft (A Long Way Down) since his Emmy Award-winning role in Breaking Bad, finally finds his feet in this neat indie, and his performance as Hollis, while much less meaty, is as engaging and fragile as his Jesse Pinkman. A former baseball star, he’s lost his drive, turned to drink, and had social services on his back since he left his kids for three weeks after the death of his wife. As Hollis tries – without much success – to clean up and regain custody of his younger son Wes, Jacob looks to escape through training to be an amateur motocross champion.
Whether motocross is too dangerous for a young teenager is not discussed in Hellion (surely it is?), but Jacob’s gotta-get-out-of-this-town attitude is matched only by his desire to have things how they used to be. Wiggins carries the whole thing superbly, with just the sense of fragility that might break him down at any moment. He does, eventually, and the resolution at the end might feel rushed and unsubtle, but it’s not unmoving. Director Candler, who extends her six-minute 2012 short here, is confident with her filming, and certain magic-hour shots of Texas clearly want to evoke Terrence Malick, although the grit and run-down feel might be more akin to Jeff Nichols’ Mud (2012). Its narrative might reach cliché towards the end, but powerful performances carry this fine fable of the American Dream lost in heartbreak.
The 68th Edinburgh Film Festival takes place from 18-29 June 2014. For more of our EIFF coverage, follow this link.