If you’ve noticed a drop in the amount of reviews I’ve done this year I’m here to tell you exactly when and why this happened. It occurred when I saw and wrote this review of Hellions. Here was a film which had obviously been made by a talented team who’d put there heart and soul into it. Furthermore reviewing films is one thing but who am I to make a judgement on something like this? Horror films frequently are over looked or pushed aside, they have low budgets, people don’t take them seriously and have a hard time getting a decent distribution. Hellions is a low budget movie with only a release on Amazon Prime here in the UK. It’s not like a big, bad studio tent pole and I felt like I was bullying it. So I didn’t publish the review and it affected my reviews there after, it even maybe a little bit less in love with the genre. Not because I hated the film or anything, although I did kind of hate it, more it just made me really sad.
But you know what? Time is a healer. So fuck sadness and fuck Hellions. Its not my fault if the director of the great Pontypool has gone crazy in the grading suite. So here’s that review and watch out for more regular reviews again from now on…
Making movies is not easy, not by a long shot. It’s all very well for me to sit here deep underground making snap judgements about films left, right and centre but I’m not the one sweating blood and tears trying to bring my vision to life. It’s got to be particularly gruelling for the low budget film maker. You’re dealing with little to no money, sometimes poor acting and rubber monsters that look as cheap as they cost to make. So I have a lot of sympathy for those poor artists battling to make their stories come true against limited resources.
Hellions is such a movie and it would have pulled it off if director Bruce McDonald hadn’t made one fatal mistake which ruins the whole thing. The worst part is that this mistake isn’t even a budgetary comprise – it’s a stylistic choice, and a disastrous one at that.
Anyway we’ll get to that in a bit. In the meantime we start with our teen heroine discovering that she is up stick and in a whole lot of trouble. Being Halloween everyone is off out trick or treating or if they’re the right age, going to a party to get wasted. Weirdly enough the rather cool Chloe Rose doesn’t feel like it and just wants to slum it at home. Left alone she has a change of heart and invites her boyfriend round to pick her up. Instead of him being at the door though there are three weird little kids in freaky Halloween costumes. It very quickly becomes apparent that these aren’t children at all but almost certainly relatives of Sam from Trick ‘r Treat. This is where limited budget meets innovation as these creatures, whilst no means as cool as Sam, really do work as creepy little monsters: and this is despite the fact that one of them is basically a child with an upside down bucket on his head. Yeah, damn straight – we can’t afford extensive prosthetics or digital make up so we’re going to put a bucket on his head! Sometimes the simplest designs can have the best results and here this and the other hellions really hit the mark.
Between them, some very nice camera work, a good lead actress and a dark premise (the hellions want to kill Rose and cut out her feotus) the first half hour of the movie is a great start to what could have been a minor classic. However if you’ve looked this up on IMDb you’ll see it’s not a very liked film at all. This could be down to the slightly abstract and incoherent back end of the story although I kind of liked the dream logic of it all and it still, mostly, makes sense even if the plot has kind of run out of steam long before the end. But no, I don’t believe that’s the reason why people don’t seem to like Hellions. I think it’s because just before the half hour mark the entire film goes magenta.
Look I’m all for taking a film as left field as you like, and I love a bit of crazy lighting at the best of times (as all fans of classic Argento do) but this stylistic choice is bizarre and kills the film dead. Let me explain: Rose is on the phone to the cops explaining about the kid with the bucket and his mates when suddenly there is a bright light and the entire film goes magenta. As in its now daylight outside but everything is magenta or pink. And it’s really, really bad. I know there’s a fair amount of pink lighting in Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond but it fits in with the alternative reality plot, maybe here the magenta is meant to represent Rose’s womb or something but it’s so distracting it just ruins the great atmosphere that had been building up to then. It’s also really ugly and not very well done. Maybe some people will like the style but I just couldn’t bare it or understand why director McDonald would even do it. It must have been a decision made whilst shooting though as the rest of film is in daylight, well this pink daylight. Maybe it’s because one of the things I’ve noticed from years of post production is that when anyone had fiddled too much with the colour correction nodes the first thing that happens is you end up with magenta creeping into the image. Then it’s a battle to remove that magenta. So it just baffles me as to why would anyone want to put it in there in the first place.
This colour change isn’t even a brief interlude either, literally the rest of the film, bar the final shot, is the same revolting looking colour – it ruins compositions, effects, even characters. Robert Patrick shows up for a bit with some plot and maybe a bit of a twist but none of it sunk in, it was all too covered in bright mauve.
Maybe it was just me but I couldn’t get past that. If you’ve only got a black and white TV then maybe it won’t bother you, but for me the stylistic choice was just too confounding, too garish and not atmospheric in the slightest.
i don’t even know what else to say about Hellions. That colour grade is such an unmitigated disaster I’m too upset to carry on. Why would such a seemingly minor thing affect me so? I just don’t know. Maybe because I know that the director is capable of such good cinema. Or maybe it’s because there is the germ of a good film wrapped up in this, I can’t even call it pretentious, vibrant nonsense. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like magenta.
Still… I did like the kid with the bucket on his head.