Hellions comes from director Bruce McDonald (of Pontypool fame, though he’s also worked on a number of TV shows in the interim) and writer Pascal Trottier, who also was responsible for the screenplay for the recent A Christmas Horror Story. At its heart, the film has aspirations to be multiple different things: a follow-up to ultra-successful Trick ‘r Treat, with the same kinds of creepy costumed kids; a devil baby yarn akin to The Devil Inside; a metaphorical take on abortion/pro-life. Initially, it seems like Hellions is going to succeed doing at least two of those three things, with an effective mood-setting opening that takes place on Halloween night – and then Hellions takes a massive nosedive.
The film starts with Dora (Chloe Rose) finding out she’s pregnant at 17, a discovery that leaves her with a lot of questions. Abortion is also hinted at by the doctor (Rossif Sutherland), who keeps saying that next week they’ll discuss their options. Dora, leaving the clinic in a haze, suddenly has no interest in the Halloween festivities she was initially going to partake in, instead wondering how to discuss this with her mother (Rachel Wilson). McDonald’s depiction of the childish qualities of Halloween paired with Dora’s new adult decision is enticing; she’s now unable to enjoy the eggings and pumpkin-smashing of adolescent immaturity, on the cusp of perhaps becoming a parent herself. And Hellions‘ use of an eerie costumed kid continually pounding on Dora’s door sets the stage for a spooky game of cat-and-mouse perpetrated by children.
But the film makes a sharp left turn at this point, dropping a lot of the Halloween atmosphere that makes the opening so effective and replacing it with an annoying pink hue that appears out of nowhere and then proceeds to tint the entire rest of the film. It’s not only oppositional to the usual color schemes during Halloween, it’s also unwarranted based on the explanation given to the audience. And for the most part, Hellions suffers from this problem throughout much of its second and third acts, giving the audience a fever dream of events taking place in some sort of Purgatory where little costumed children try to take Dora’s rapidly growing baby from her while a poorly characterized police officer (Robert Patrick) tries to defend her.
McDonald seems to want to have his theme working on a multitude of levels. His exploration of Dora’s pregnancy and the ensuing horror of pursuit by baby-hungry little devils is clearly some sort of metaphor for the overarching idea of giving birth, and Hellions presents a lot of imagery that indicates there’s something to take away from what Hellions has to say, even when it’s couched in supernatural tension. But Hellions fails to make any point within the 80 minutes of Dora’s dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams – the symbolism is there, but Trottier’s script doesn’t do anything with it. There are a lot of angry forum rants out there about Hellions being a pro-life piece of propaganda, but I think even that is stretching. I don’t care if Hellions is pro-choice, pro-life, or even a fever dream about postpartum depression, but it at least has to make that statement, not teeter on the fence noncommitally.
Hellions is steeped in opacity just as much as its pink washed-out lighting, and it doesn’t help that its few characters – mainly Patrick’s Corman – have little to offer the film besides a few deaths. Trottier’s script presents so many mysterious moments, so many pieces of a puzzle that doesn’t fit together, that no discernible intention can be ascribed to it in either literary or political form, and so it’s foolish to argue about the overall bias of pro-choice/pro-life. Ultimately Hellions can be interpreted in so many different ways that its metaphorical sprawl could generate a thousand different Jezebel thinkpieces. And even regardless of its thematic leanings, Hellions’ depiction of a straightforward plot about a woman pursued by demonic children is – pun intentional – ill-conceived.
Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release of Hellions is particularly lacking when compared to the obvious lack of definition in the film’s theme. Video is presented in high definition quality in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it looks fairly good despite its awful pink lighting; notable is McDonald’s use of framing to put Dora on the outskirts of camera shots. Audio features two options, a 5.1 track that utilizes the soundtrack’s ghostly child singing or a 2.0 track. Subtitles are also included.
No special features are included besides some IFC Midnight trailers and some interior cover art; on a film that could have used an audio commentary track from McDonald and Trottier, this is a noticeably lacking disc. Wait for a Netflix stream before picking up this release to see if you like the film first, because there’s nothing to recommend on the bonus side of things.