WOLFHELLION

Beyond Fright Double Review: IFC’s WOLF/HELLION

unnamedI’ve always been drawn to films that have lead characters that don’t fall into a black or white area, ones that are in a very grey place. Characters like those ones tend to stay with you after watching the films they inhabit, and are able to make you stop and think for a while, making you wonder if you would follow the same paths that they did, if faced with similar obstacles and/or situations. Already having made a name for themselves as a studio that releases very story-driven films across all genres, IFC Films (along with their genre branch off, IFC Midnight) has done a hell of a job giving fans of very character based films exactly what they want to see. Instead of writing about one of their recently released titles, I thought it would be fun and interesting to write a bit about two films that IFC has put out that have both left quite an impression on me, Jim Taihutt’s Netherland-based crime drama WOLF and Kat Candler’s heavy metal family drama HELLION.


WOLF

WOLF

There’s something special about black and white foreign crime films that just deeply resonates with me. When the IFC channel made its debut in my neck of the woods, around 1996 or so, I’d use my allowance to purchase multiple blank VHS tapes, just to push the record button before hitting the sack. Every morning, I’d get up and the very first thing I would do, would be walking to the VCR, and seeing what new (to me) gems were waiting for my mind to ingest. I spent my last three high school years in independent study, which basically meant that I went to school for an hour, once a week and did my homework at my own pace. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and most of my time was spent watching those films I would record. I learned to love independent crime/other genre films like MAN BITES DOG, DOWN BY LAW and various others. It was a magical time in my life that has not been reproduced in the years that have passed since…until WOLF came along.

Taking the classic hard living tough guy trying to pull himself out of his situation angle and running with it, WOLF gives its viewers a rich and powerful story revolving around Majid (Marwan Kenzari), a man who spends his time being a thief with one hell of an anger problem. Having a lot stacked against him, Majid not only has a brother dying from cancer, but a younger brother who Majid is afraid will take the same, nowhere but down path that he has.

Somewhere in between robbing people with his friend Adil (Chemseddine Amar), Majid steps into the gym of Ben, a local trainer, who instantly sees the untapped potential in him. Trying to inspire Majid into focusing on becoming a champion fighter instead of a thug, Ben does his best to keep Majid focused on letting his anger out in the ring, but when he’s approached by a local gangster with a job opportunity that would pay him very well, Majid is caught up in a decision to either follow one way, one that will allow him a future, or another that will instead lead him down a path of destruction and ultimately a negative future.

Looking beautiful in black and white, the film does an excellent job setting forth a calm tone, allowing the viewer to be relaxed, something that works for the film’s advantage when Majid loses his temper, making you surprised and entertained. The subtle yet completely intense portrayal from Kenzari is definitely the highlight of the film, as he’s a force to be reckoned with, reminiscent of Ryan Gosling’s Driver character in DRIVE. Majid talks more, but there’s that quiet then explosive dynamic to the character, making him someone you really find yourself interested in, leaving you continually wondering which direction he’s going to choose. It’s that fork in the road approach that makes WOLF a solid character-driven film. You want Majid to wake up and put his focus inside of the fighting ring, but as the film goes on, you find yourself realizing that the odds are continually getting worse and worse for him.

The combination of a breakout performance by Marwan Kenzari, an excellent soundtrack, and some solid direction from Taihutt, makes WOLF a crime drama that will no doubt be a film that will talked about for days after viewing it. It’s a rare gem in the genre and stands on its own as character-driven gritty story.


HELLION

HELLION

Doing his best to break away from his role as Jesse Pinkman in AMC’s Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul does just that in Kat Candler’s HELLION. Focusing on a father, hurt and haunted by the death of his wife, HELLION doesn’t waste any time in putting its viewer right in the middle of a family that has been all but torn apart. Paul’s Hollis character does his best to raise his two songs on his own, but can’t seem to shake the demons of losing his wife and resorts to drinking and basically letting the kids do what they want, as he’s lost in his mourning to realize that his sons are suffering right alongside him.

The older son of the two, Jacob (Josh Wiggins), is filled to brim with anger, wanting to destroy everything, all while listening to nonstop heavy metal. There’s a division between Hollis and Jacob, and as his son is heading down a downward slope, Hollis is too busy with his own issues to realize that both Jacob and his younger son, Wes, aren’t getting what they need: a good father. In trying to juggle working, drinking and mourning, Hollis is there physically, but not emotionally, and when Wes is taken from the home by Child Protective Services and placed in the home of his former sister in law (played by Juliette Lewis), Hollis is faced with the challenge of not only cleaning himself up, but doing his best to show Jacob that there are better ways to mourn, that to just destroy everything.

There’s a realness to the film’s performances, with both Aaron Paul and Josh Wiggins giving two amazing performances as the father and son who don’t really know each other anymore, without ever feeling like it’s a forced character dynamic. Anybody who has had kids can agree that having children is never easy, and what we do and say can affect those around us, so when a film like HELLION comes around, it’s an interesting way to identify with the story.

Like WOLF, one of the main themes in HELLION is the theme and idea of redemption. When faced with losing his youngest son, Hollis realizes where he went wrong as a father, and does his best to turn himself around, and to turn Jacob around, trying to help his son put his focus less on mayhem and more on his talent of racing. Jacob, in his naivete, thinks that if he wins a big dirtbike race, then it will show everyone that he’s not a bad kid and that Wes can come back. It’s that youthful form of thinking that runs wild in HELLION, with, like previously stated, a very big feeling of authenticity shining through the entire film.

A very powerful and endearing drama, HELLION gives its viewers one more reason to love Aaron Paul and allows him to flex his acting muscles in an entirely different way that the “yeah, Bitch!” persona that he had in Breaking Bad, and showing viewers that he’s far from a one trick pony.