October 5, 2016

VIFF 2016 | Must See BC – 'Hello Destroyer' Punishes

VIFF 2016 Must See BC | Jared Abrahamson Kevan Funk | Hello Destroyer

VIFF 2016Hello Destroyer, BC filmmaker Kevan Funk's feature directorial debut, is laser focused on exploring the human impact of violence through the lens of a junior hockey enforcer in Prince George. It's a stylistically artful but meticulously slow burn, human drama that takes a minimalistic, fly on the wall approach to exploring its character drama.

Tyson Burr, played by Fear the Walking Dead actor Jared Abrahamson, is a promising rookie that gets sidelined for his role in causing an on-ice injury and the unfortunate circumstances following it. Abrahamson gives a visceral, naturalistic performance, but it is purposely difficult to identify with him given so little despite our sympathies for his harsh reality. After his hockey career sputters, he takes a (thematically obvious) job at a slaughterhouse back in his hometown only further highlighting the normalized aspects of violence in society.

What's most frustrating is how Funk deliberately and painstakingly chooses to present every frame of his story. There are no establishing or wide shots to contextualize scenes. Everything is shot entirely in closeups and longer takes without any inserts, cutaways, or transitions. It's unnerving and annoying as we literally follow Burr, usually from behind, and are dropped into situations without much context. This causes the loose, stripped-down narrative to drag in between frequent moments of sadness.

There are only few whole scenes and only the barest of dialogue as Funk prefers to focus entirely on Tyson's limited viewpoint. Character development is seen mostly peripherally and not much is made explicit about supporting characters or their situations in relation to him. However, Benjamin Loeb's cinematography really highlights the harshness of Northern British Columbia, fleshing out the film's surroundings, making it all the more difficult to watch the film as it never wavers from its harsh point of view.

The film is an unrelentingly punishing experience about the consequences of normalized violence and institutional male aggression in society. Funk and his team are clearly talented and have a unique vision but it's just entirely too repetitive in its execution. The themes and underlying message are admirable but the film drags and never quite comes together or says anything particularly substantial. Hello Destroyer is undeniably powerful but needlessly bleak.

Hello Destroyer screened at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Ignite and BC Spotlight series.

Update: The Vancouver Film Critics Circle awarded Hello Destroyer both its Best Canadian and Best BC Film awards.

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