Rare is the moment when a film critic sees a film directed by an up and coming filmmaker who reveals immense potential with a unique vision. If anything, they long to live in the moment like Roger Ebert viewing Martin Scorsese’s film debut Who’s That Knocking at My Door or Pauline Kale being blown away by Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. It’s in these moments the critics feel an obligation to make the world pay attention to these visionaries. The director in this case is Kevan Funk, whose taking Canadian critics by surprising with Hello Destroyer, a quiet yet scathing examination of how boys are taught to be men in modern Canadian society. With intriguing imagery and a thought provoking storyline, Funk is sure to get people talking.
When we first meet Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson), he’s brawling with a rival player on the ice. At least, that’s what you see on the ice. Outside the rink, he is a quiet sensitive type of guy who likes to roughhouse with his nephew. But with his teammates cheering on his brawl and his coach placing strong emphasis on winning, Tyson feels forced to maintain an aggressive facade. But that facade turns on him when he critically injures another player in a brawl. Soon, the world seems to turn on Tyson. After being kicked out of his home and his town labelling him a pariah, Tyson is left alone with no idea how to comprehend his actions.
The theme of toxic masculinity runs throughout this movie. In the game of hockey, Tyson constantly finds himself surrounded by the aggressive ideal of a man, from his superior team mates asserting an alpha male persona through hazing or his coach spouting cliched speeches of how history is written by winners (when he’s not verbally abusing them and smashing hockey sticks when they’re losing). This clashes with his personality as a quiet, sensitive guy. But his environment constantly rewards him for more aggressive behavior from his teammates cheering him on after the opening brawl or his coach’s need to win. But then everyone’s forced to confront the consequences of that behaviour taken to extreme levels. Those closest to him pretend to offer help when they’re only trying to sweep this under the rug. With no guidance, Tyson feels trapped with no means of channel his guilt.
You share in Tyson’s feelings thanks to Edo Van Breemen’s cinematography. Nearly every scene shoots Tyson in either closeup or in darkness, preventing us from getting a full glimpse of him. Even when he’s shot in light or at a distance, somethings right on the edge of the camera to prevent a clear view of him. Through the claustrophobic camera work, we feel as overwhelmed as Tyson. The dark scenes are especially powerful in how they present how alone Tyson truly is, unable to truly express his feelings.
Funk’s directing style bears a resemblance to Michael Hanake’s. Like Hanake, Funk presents difficult subject matters in an unflinching manner. Like Hanake, Funk respects his audience enough to not hammer any message, preferring to present the subject at a distance and letting the audience come up with their own conclusion. However, Funk takes inspiration Hanake and creates his own style. He keeps us close and personal with the hero, making us feel his confusion.
Of course, the film wouldn’t have worked without Abrahamson’s performance. He has earned a TIFF rising star for this role and it’s not hard to see why. With little dialogue, He’s able to express his characters’ confusion and guilt through body language. He’s another up and comer with a lot of potential.
With an engaging young lead, confiding cinematography and a director’s unflinching yet subtle vision, Hello Destroyer takes Canada’s favorite pastime and uses it to dissect how we teach boys to be men. It challenges the audience to confront the images the youth are presented and the effects it could have on them in the future. I am interested to see what Funk has planned next.