The hellion of “Hellion” is Jacob Wilson, a 13-year-old Texas rebel with a cause. As played by a real teenager, Josh Wiggins, he’s a force of nature.

His mother has died, and his troubled father (co-producer Aaron Paul) leaves him and his young brother (Deke Garner) to fend for themselves. Jacob has become increasingly protective of what’s left of the family. He’s also randomly destructive, committing acts of vandalism that get him in trouble with the police and the courts.

Drawn into the conflict is a sister-in-law (Juliette Lewis) who never wanted children but finds herself, with the help of sympathetic authorities, providing a temporary shelter. Her good intentions lead almost inevitably to a crisis.

Rarely has the impact of a death in the family been communicated so forcefully and yet so obliquely. The estrangement of father and son is especially compelling, partly because it’s suggested in a vulnerable glance or a moment of piercing self-awareness.

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When dad is lecturing son on the necessity of behaving responsibly, Paul underlines the hypocrisy of the episode without losing its sincerity. Wiggins is especially good at capturing the double nature of these exchanges.

The script piles on the melodramatic touches (yes, there’s even a foreclosure in the works), but the performances — and writer-director Kat Candler’s dusty atmospheric touches — help to carry the day.

John Hartl: