Plot seems to be a secondary consideration in Hellions, the latest feature from Pontypool helmer Bruce McDonald. In a horror movie—a genre that necessarily deals in the visceral and the occult—this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of striking, clever, effective movies have been made simply by re-arranging and re-calibrating familiar genre elements. Hellions might have been one of these, if it was predicated on something slightly less shallow than “kids in masks + chanting + blood = scary.”

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McDonald returns to the rural Canadian milieu of his 2008 zombie movie for the story of Dora Vogel (Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Chloe Rose), a high-school senior who finds out she’s pregnant hours before the festivities are set to begin in her unnamed, apparently Halloween-crazed town. Shaken by the news, Dora returns home, where she engages in some cool-teen moping—eating pickles out of the jar, telling her mom “we can’t all be prom queens like you,” smoking a joint on the roof, etc.—until her mom (The Kennedys’ Rachel Wilson) and little brother go out trick-or-treating, leaving Dora alone in the house. After her boyfriend fails to pick her up for a party, Dora is confronted by first one, then two, then three creepy kids, one of whom presents her with her boyfriend’s head in a bag.

That’s where the supernatural element comes in. If that wasn’t already clear from contextual clues, McDonald makes extra-special sure that viewers know something is up by tinting the film pink, then red, an odd stylistic choice that may confuse VOD viewers reaching to adjust their TVs. (It’s not you, it’s the movie.) That’s just one of the many visual tricks McDonald leans on to create a sense of unease, including: speeding up the film, slowing down the film, lighting scenes with flashlights, digitally altered color palettes, and cuts to true black. There’s also the spooky chant that is re-used throughout the film, an unholy blend of “Silent Night” and the Meow Mix song as performed by an elementary-school choir.

Sure, some of these images are eerie. A lot of thought obviously went into them. The same can’t be said for the screenplay: Even at 81 minutes, Hellions feels padded out, running out of plot after an unsatisfying expository scene halfway through and relying on visual gimmickry to make up the rest. (Viewers with a low tolerance for “it was all a dream” fake-out sequences will find this movie particularly tiresome.) Hellions’ willingness to get really weird at times is commendable, if only as an attempt to bring something extra to its basic “demon-kids-meets-home-invasion” concept. But by over-relying on that weirdness, it betrays the fact that there’s not much else there.

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