Halloween-masked child demons demand more than King-sized candy bars in Hellions, a phantasmagoric horror treat that could also be seen as a metaphor for unplanned teenage pregnancy. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald (2008’s inventively creepy Pontypool) and written by Pascal Trottier (2013’s The Colony), the film is an impish treat tailor-made for lovers of All Hallows’ Eve like a razor blade wrapped in a piece of candy — a comparison only true-blue genre fans will understand. In lieu of being a conventional, purely literal run-and-hide thriller about evil monsters, McDonald and Trottier bring a more surreal, dreamlike approach to their uniquely stylish little nightmare. It’s much more about an abstract, “what’s-real-and-what’s-not?” mood than a strong narrative structure, and for some, that will be much of the fiendish fun all along.
The last thing goth-dressed 17-year-old Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose) probably wanted to hear on Halloween night was the news that she is four weeks pregnant. After a checkup appointment at Dr. Henry’s (Rossif Sutherland) office, her whole world seems to come crashing down internally. She hasn’t told boyfriend Jace (Luke Bilyk) or even her mother (Rachel Wilson), who leaves Dora home alone to take her younger son (Peter DaCunha) out trick-or-treating. As she nervously waits for Jace to pick her up to go to a party, not-too-ready to tell him about a fetus growing inside of her, Dora deals with the occasional egging of her house windows to the annoying trick-or-treaters. All hell breaks loose when the same insidiously masked trick-or-treaters come ringing her bell, evidently not out to trick and making it clear that they want Dora’s unborn child for sacrifice. With only the local sheriff (Robert Patrick) being any help, can the soon-to-be young mother make it through the night in one piece?
As the film becomes something of a distorted, horrific twist on The Wizard of Oz, Dora finds herself caught in a storm in her house, even with there being no windows open, and then the entire outside adopts a pinkish, almost infrared hue (not unlike the aforementioned Judy Garland classic’s transition from black-and-white to Technicolor). Entirely set during a blood moon, Hellions is always cool to look at, aided by cinematographer Norayr Kasper’s visual sense. Autumnal atmosphere is certainly in the air throughout, from the iconography of the holiday decorations and a pumpkin patch near the Vogel homestead, to an indeliably creepy image of the masked little terrors scattering themselves in front of a smoking cop car. Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre’s buzzing score is also suitably off-putting—that’s a compliment—with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s “na-nana-naa-nah” chanting augmenting the film’s playfully malevolent vibe.
At only a skinny 81 minutes, the story doesn’t make much time for secondary characters, save for the always-welcome Robert Patrick’s grizzled cop Corman, with Dora’s mother and younger brother out trick-or-treating and her boyfriend’s fate sealed by the pint-sized hellions. This is all Dora’s story, though, and it hinges on the fact that she could either be experiencing a hellish reality or imagining this fever dream from the pressures and ambivalence of her pregnancy. In the lead, Chloe Rose (TV’s Degrassi: The Next Generation) brings an empathy and honesty to Dora’s loss of innocence and even a little toughness when she discovers a gunpowder alternative to kill off the devilish little ghoulies. When things remain horrific and disorienting from Dora’s perspective—she floods an outhouse with her own fetal blood and later hallucinates about a fetus on a fork (in earlier scenes, Dora craves forking pickles out of a jar and covering them in honey)—the film manages to keep even genre know-it-alls off-balance. Hellions might not offer enough memorability to be a definitive seasonal mainstay, but down the road, it could go on the rotation of Halloween-set movies after Halloween, Hocus Pocus and Trick ‘r Treat.
Hellions opens in select theaters and on VOD/iTunes Friday, September 18th.