Hello Destroyer ★★★½

[7]

Tyson just wanted to fit in, be a better hockey player and a part of the team. As depicted in Kevan Funk's stark, poignant debut feature, the impulses that drive Tyson to serve his team are, at base, indistinguishable from those that, say, provoke a toady to take that kick amidst a gang of bullies. It's an unthinking reflex, inculcated into our boys. And when it goes awry, they're on their own.

Along with Werewolf, Never Eat Alone, and The Stairs, Destroyer has been part of a banner year for Canadian cinema. What accounts for this moment of Northern talent coming to mass fruition? Hard to say, but it probably has something to do with more and more Canadian indies finding ways to work around the national funding system and just plow ahead. Financially, I suppose this is the 21st century version of the plan américain, but the resulting visions are about as "American" as a Double Double.

Hello Destroyer is the perfect case in point. It's both a close study of Tyson (Jared Abrahamson), one naive young man, as well as a deep core-sample of the national character, but Funk plays this dialectic masterfully. For the most part, we don't know where Hello Destroyer is going until it gets there. At the same time, every point along its destination feels fated, as though our hapless antihero's fate had been sealed from the moment he first stepped onto the rink.

As amply demonstrated in experimental works like Brett Kashmere's Valery's Ankle and John Greyson's The Making of 'Monsters', hockey can be seen as the open secret lurking in the Canadian psyche, the sanctioned bloodletting that gives the lie especially to English Canada's polite WASPish veneer. It's a proving ground for masculinity in a culture that often seems to prize order and diffidence. Funk captures this perfectly when, after Tyson has committed an act that jeopardizes his team in terms of liability and p.r., his coach (Kurt Max Runte) and the owner (Michael St. John Smith) are so very polite to Tyson, so concerned. Let us handle it, sign here. As these man throw their own charge under the bus, they not only do everything to avoid conflict. They actively court his consent.

This attitude permeates Hello Destroyer, even when the ostracism and hatred toward Tyson becomes more explicit. Making the most of the flat, frozen landscape, Funk maintains a fixed camera, a minimal soundtrack, and a kind of distanced glare at the events unfolding before us. This mirrors Tyson's confusion, but it also makes suburban Canada look like an alien hellscape, not unlike the "glaciation" of Michael Haneke. The final scene, in this regard, could have been a gross miscalculation, were it not for Funk's judicious direction. The last shot tells us what Tyson has done, but effectively removes his decision from the picture.

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