To abruptly open a drama film supposedly about hockey with an on-ice fist fight might seem formulaic, but in actuality is the perfect opening statement for young filmmaker Kevan Funk’s 2016 feature film debut, Hello Destroyer. Such an opening resonated with me on a visceral level, as I was instantly rapt with anticipation for what was in store, but sadly such promise gave way to stinging disappointment. That is not to say that Hello Destroyer is a failure in what it seeks to do. In fact, it is an objectively accomplished piece of work, but too often did I feel the lingering presence of Funk’s heavy hand, as the budding writer/director shoots for the Moon, but ends up hitting Mars instead.
The opening act of the film can lead one to believe it to be a drama centered on minor league ice hockey, where the life and career of rookie Tyson (Jared Abrahamson), who plays for the fictional Prince Edward Warriors, is turned upside down by one misguided tackle. However, it is at this pivotal moment that Hello Destroyer begins to truly reveal its multi-faceted narrative, which deals with everything from the nature of violence and family dynamics, to subtle commentary on colonialism.
I cannot fault Funk for the ambitiousness of his screenplay, as there is minimal dialogue, which allows the filmmaker to deliberately emphasise cinematic language and the impressive performance of its lead. Where I can fault Funk, though, is in its execution.
The cinematography is often impressive, and there is genuine skill at play here both in front and behind the camera, but Funk goes for broke with lingering shots that are reminiscent of classic Italian cinema, though lacking the same kineticism. He is so concerned with capturing the side profile of Abrahamson, that in key moments where I wanted to fully appreciate the depth of the actor’s performance, Funk’s angles can instead leave me feeling emotionally distanced from Tyson.
Furthermore, the lack of dialogue could have been a sharp dramatic weapon for Funk, especially since silence is established as an area of discomfort for Tyson early in the film, but its incessant pervasiveness, paired with sporadically truncated shots of its lead, gives way to frustration instead of insight.
Funk has previously stated that in making Hello Destroyer his intention was to steer away from standard commercial American filmmaking techniques in favour of a wholly Canadian cinematic experience, which is something I both sensed and admired. In spite of this, such noble intentions cannot account for the dire effect his creative choices have upon the film’s sporadically trudging pace.
Yet, there is still a great deal to appreciate about Hello Destroyer, as some of its best moments are when the methodically built themes surface visually. Whether it be Tyson washing the blood-soaked floors of a slaughterhouse, or wandering from his car on a cold lonely night, the undertones are clear, but never overstated.
Despite my aforementioned issues with the framing of Tyson’s character at certain moments, the visual realisation of its themes are bolstered by a character that is nonetheless as complex as the circumstances in which he finds himself. The conclusion to Tyson’s arc ultimately depicts him as a hard-hittingly tragic youth, who has fallen victim to uncompromising circumstance and moral corruption, regardless of his own inherent flaws. Funk sought to avoid the benign predictability of most American dramatic features, and Hello Destroyer is all the better for it.
It is for reasons such as these that I wish I could better appreciate Hello Destroyer. It has been acclaimed by the Canadian film community, while certainly establishing Kevan Funk as a promising new filmmaker. Nevertheless, I find there are too many overriding issues to ignore. Funk’s intentions here are noble, and the end result is not without grace, but his pursuit of an individualistic style disrupts narrative flow, moreover blunting the resonance of its emotional impact.