One of the better aspects of my film festival experience this year is many selects I’ve seen have dealt with families trying to stay together. That or focused on the troubles of youth in the mix of a family struggle. Hellion is no different, however, it deals with a troubled family struggling with a tragedy. Containing some fantastic performances from its young as well as older cast, Hellion is one of the most thrilling family dramas presented at DIFF so far.

The film centers around a thirteen year old rebellious teenager named Jacob (Josh Wiggins), who has a reputation among  the town for being a trouble maker. Even though Jacob puts himself constantly at risk with authority, deep down his heart is in the right place. His father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), still struggles with the death of his wife, and went as far as abandoning his children alone for three weeks to drown his sorrow in drinking. Due to this, Jacob has become resentful of his father and feels the need to act out against him. Jacob had to take care of his little brother Wes the whole time, but because he did, he feels strongly responsible and connected to him on many levels.

One day, Jacob and Wes get into more trouble for burning stuff on someone else’s property. They get chased by the owner but Jacob and Wes get away. Problem is, Jacob had to abandon his bike, making the authorities piece together who set the fire. Soon after, the police get CPS involve because of Jacob’s increasing criminal behavior. The result makes the authorities realize the condition Hollis keeps his children in, and they take his little Brother away to live with his Aunt. Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a kid torn from his household, no matter the dysfunction.

This makes Jacob and his father Hollis take a cold look at their lives. Jacob wants to make his brother proud by competing in a dirt bike race and win. Hollis wants to change his emotionally neglectful ways and get both his sons back– Jacob emotionally, and Wes  physically. Hollis even mentions to Jacob that they both need to do better for Wes. Both Hollis and Jacob start fighting for themselves, their family, and attempt to find peace within to save Wes from being permanently taken away.

Aaron Paul plays a role we haven’t quite seen him in before. I was worried as the film started that all I would see was Jesse Pinkman trying to act grown up, but Paul does outstanding as a father who is distant from his children. Anyone who had any worries after Need for Speed can rest easy. Paul is showing some interesting range here. It’s a much needed mature change for him.

Josh Wiggins does a solid job handling the role of a troubled teenager, bringing a sense of sympathy for him, even though he’s a little out of control. Wiggins understands that this is a kid that has a great heart but just stuck in a troublesome time of his life, and portrays it effortlessly. From what I heard, Wiggins did all his stunts on the dirt bike as well, which I found awesome.

The aesthetic of the film was all done hand-held making it feel personal and realistic. Those who remember me praising a film called Short Term 12 or have seen it might be interested in knowing that Brett Pawlak also did the cinematography in Hellion. The way he shoots makes the viewer feel as they are witnessing real life. Everything feels cinematic and documented all at once. He’s a tremendous person with camera work.

My favorite aspect of the Dallas International Film Festival so far is all the amazing female directors that have shown up here. With an industry overrun by men, it’s refreshing to see directors like Kat Chandler appear here and floor me with their films. She does amazing telling a film with such strong developed male characters, and depicting their conflicting family relationships. This and Little Accidents have been my favorites here by far, and both were directed by women. Keep it up ladies!

Overall though, Hellion is a tense family drama definitely worth checking out. If you remember a film called Hesher from a few years ago, this movie could totally work as a double feature for that film. There’s a ton of heavy metal music, and also depicts a story about a family struggling through a tragedy. Only difference is this one is about how much a father needs his son, and a brothers fighting for each other. Not many family dramas are this nail biting and not as many send chills throughout when the credits roll. This one does, and I can’t wait to experience it again.