Former “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul (“Need for Speed”) has certainly gotten my attention with his performance in the new film “Hellion.” Written, directed and based on her short film of the same name, Kat Candler delivers a rousing and emotional look at the struggle of young men trying to overcome tragedy. Also a professor at The University of Texas in Austin, she is a familiar face in the Texas film community.

“Hellion,” which debuted at Sundance, hits SXSW wide open and left the same kind of impression Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” did the previous year. Candler taps into the reality of the situation presented here, where a husband and his two boys are completely devastated after the death of their mother/wife. Candler embeds the story on the coast of Texas in Galveston County and plays off the destruction of houses and shattered lives left in locations such as Bolivar Peninsula and Port Arthur.

Jacob Wilson (Wiggins) has a knack for destruction and disturbance since his mother was killed in a car accident. His father, Hollis (Paul), is never around to look after Jacob and Wes (Deke Garner), his 10-year-old brother. After they set a truck on fire at a local baseball game, CPS removes Wes, while Jacob is sent to juvenile detention.

Desperate to pick up his family and regain control of his life, Hollis cleans the house, does laundry and tries to repair their getaway house in Galveston in an attempt to start fresh. Jacob focuses all his time on trying to win a motocross race and prove to everyone that he isn’t just a violent screw-up, but every time he is challenged he reacts poorly and continues to push everyone further away.

The coming of age theme with teenage males is certainly a continuing fad at SXSW and in mainstream cinema. Candler takes us into a really sad and unfortunate circumstance where these men want desperately to change their lives and circumstances but allow pain to get in the way.

Paul digs deep here; his face masked with a beard, doesn’t hide the emotional struggle of his character. Candler sat down with me and explained that she drew many of the examples in the film from stories she had heard in her own family, and that the mind of a teenager interested her. The family behavior element can be seen in all of her films.

Candler’s script is equally sympathetic and realistic; “there are no villains,” she explained to me. I told her that I saw each character as their own worst enemy because they all want their situation to improve, but mentally and physically don’t know how to attain it.

Candler has written something so stirring with love and, in the end, the acceptance of responsibility. Her final, and arguably most beautiful scene in the film, is stunning and heartbreaking. Candler’s “Hellion” rises above other films that focus on the same teenage male perspective and her understanding of humanity makes this a powerful piece of cinema.

Final thought: A heartbreakingly beautiful film with unforgettable performances.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. More reviews are available at texasart

film.com.

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