Horror and sur­re­al­ism are a nat­u­ral cin­e­mat­ic mar­riage. The eas­i­est way to get an audi­ence to accept the unworld­ly and bizarre ele­ments hor­ror films rely upon is to couch them in atmos­phere where real­i­ty as the audi­ence knows it is falling apart. This is the approach that not­ed indie direc­tor Bruce McDonald has tak­en with his lat­est film, Hellions. This off­beat effort sug­gests an earnest indie dra­ma about a teenage girl that gets tak­en over by the sturm and drang of a par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­re­al hor­ror sto­ry. The results are often com­pelling but they ulti­mate­ly push the sur­re­al­is­tic style so far that it over­whelms the nar­ra­tive sub­stance.

Hellions-bluThe hero­ine in Hellions is Dora (Chloe Rose), a like­able if typ­i­cal­ly surly teen whose world is rocked when her doc­tor (Rossif Sutherland) tells her that she is preg­nant. She is grap­pling with how to han­dle this unwant­ed sur­prise as Halloween night approach­es — and she sud­den­ly finds her­self trapped in her home by mis­chie­vous, masked chil­dren who have more on their mind than just Halloween pranks. In short order, she is fend­ing off attacks from the tit­u­lar dev­ils as her preg­nan­cy begins to rebel again­st her body. As things get more unhinged, help arrives in the form of local cop Corman (Robert Patrick) but her sit­u­a­tion — and real­i­ty itself — might already be too far gone.

Hellions does a good job estab­lish­ing its hero­ine and her predica­ment. However, Pascal Trottier’s script nev­er quite nails its blend of dra­ma, hor­ror and sur­re­al­ism. The child mon­sters seem to be a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Dora’s fear of her preg­nan­cy forc­ing her to grow up too fast but the script nev­er works out the con­nec­tion, play­ing the killer kids as typ­i­cal movie mon­sters and get­ting lost in too many “is this real or a night­mare?” turn­abouts. It’s also a lit­tle too self-con­scious about being a hor­ror sto­ry: before the plot’s real hor­rors kick in, Trottier and McDonald throw in a cou­ple of unnec­es­sary cheap scares that make it seem the hero­ine is los­ing her grip too ear­ly.

McDonald directs the film in an adven­tur­ous way, rev­el­ing in the sur­re­al set­pieces and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to turn the film’s famil­iar rural set­ting into a night­mare waste­land via some unusu­al pink/purple col­or tim­ing. However, once he gets past the first act, the hor­ror the­atrics over­ride the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions com­plete­ly: for exam­ple, Patrick seems game for both the hor­ror and sur­re­al­ism beats but is nev­er given much to do beyond ful­fill the script’s fun­house twists. The sur­re­al­ism starts to spi­ral out of con­trol near the end: a scene where Dora runs through a field of explod­ing pump­kins might have you ques­tion­ing whether or not the moment is sup­posed to be fun­ny.

In short, Hellions is an exper­i­ment in sur­re­al hor­ror that doesn’t ful­ly work. The best night­mares have their own inter­nal log­ic and that log­ic is too hard to parse in this film.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just released this title on blu-ray as part of its part­ner­ship with IFC Midnight. The trans­fer does well with the film’s art­sy col­or scheme and dim­ly-lit inte­ri­ors and the 5.1 loss­less mix makes the most of the film’s creepy, rock-tinged score. The one extra is a trail­er.