Movies almost never get hockey right. Historically, the game’s on-screen presence has been as a warped backdrop for knucklehead laughs or forgettable melodrama.
This makes Hello Destroyer a rare and haunting success—all the rarer for the fact that its vision of violence, shame, and exile results in a claustrophobic film full of silences and shadows, even as it reflects on a thundering, floodlit sport. The Cinematheque is set to bring back this acclaimed 2016 work (along with Tom Scholte’s puckcentric Crime, from 2008) in a Hockey Double Bill, as part of the fourth installment in the series The Image Before Us: A History of Film in British Columbia.
Here in his feature debut, Vancouver writer-director Kevan Funk fixes the camera on Jared Abrahamson’s rising-star turn as Tyson Burr, an on-ice enforcer for the fictional Prince George Warriors junior hockey club who plummets into disgrace after seriously injuring an opponent with a bad hit into the boards. Throughout Tyson’s descent, we’re made to hover near him, usually no more than an arm’s length away. It’s as if Funk wants to tell the story with the faint motions of Abrahamson’s face, as fear, sadness, anger, and baffled pain ripple its masklike stillness.
The fateful hit itself barely registers. We never get a clear view of it (even though, as anyone who follows hockey knows, such incidents are replayed endlessly in the ensuing days). It’s a fleeting, rolling event on the periphery, like so much else that happens as Tyson wanders in search of acceptance and absolution. Even so, its consequences keep growing, and the double bind of soldierly duty and caustic guilt etches rings around the young man’s eyes.
If this makes the movie seem heartbreaking, well, it is. There are few rays of light in Hello Destroyer. Tyson laughs just twice in 110 minutes: once during a fumbling chat with a roommate about his fear of what sounds like the existential abyss, and again, much later, just before breaking into sobs while drinking with a friend he works alongside at—where else?—a slaughterhouse.
But don’t let it turn you away from a film that took a cluster of last year’s Leo Awards. This image of the violence and betrayal intrinsic to wolfpacks has deep relevance far beyond any rink. And the homegrown skill, confidence, and ambition of Funk and Abrahamson—not to mention cinematographer Benjamin Loeb—hint at even finer things to come.
Hello Destroyer screens at the Cinematheque on Monday (February 26) at 6:30 p.m.