Early in Kevan Funk’s “Hello Destroyer,” young minor league hockey player Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson) lays in his room and confides one of his deepest phobias to a teammate.
“You know when it’s completely silent and you get that ringing noise in your ears?” he tells his teammate in the neighboring bed. “I can’t stand that.”
“Hello Destroyer,” a Canadian drama playing at the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival, is a film supremely concerned with noise. This noise takes all kinds of forms. Ice rinks hum, and athletes huff and puff through an excruciating workout. Fists and bludgeons pound the tar out of flesh and inanimate objects alike. Men thrum with conversation yet say nothing, using their words instead to dominate their companions and fill as much space as possible. Even the silence weighs heavy -- Burr’s dreaded ring arrives often.
What unites all the noise is their suffocating sense of violence -- the way they invade Burr’s and the audience’s personal space. Funk is fascinated with this violence, and how men worship and glorify it, even as they condemn it. Violence sits front and center in a story that explores Burr’s accidental hospitalization of another player, the toxically masculine team culture that encouraged him to do it, and the tendency of the same culture to wash its hands in the waters of “individual responsibility” after things have gone too far.
Burr is submerged in this culture at the outset of “Hello Destroyer.” One of the first scenes sees him and his fellow rookies forced to the ground and shaved by his teammates on the Prince George Warriors, an initiation ritual onto the team. Newly bald, he nods, wide-eyed and eager, as the Warriors’ hatchet-faced coach (Kurt Max Runte) barks out “inspirational” speeches, stumbling and grasping between verbs like “pound” and “build.” (This scene should feel unsettlingly familiar to anyone who has ever participated in competitive sports; flashbacks to high school wrestling abounded.)
Off the ice, Burr rough-houses with the young son of the couple he boards with, or drinks and fights with teammates. On the ice, he’s encouraged to fight more, and more viciously.
“That’s how you do it,” an assistant coach played by Ian Tracey tells him, patting him on the back. “It all comes down to who wants it more.”
All this encouragement vanishes after Burr puts an opposing player in traction during a heated match. He’s shut out of the team by a wall of silence, then told his actions “don’t reflect the Prince George Warriors’ values.” The couple he rents from tells him they fear for their son. He’s suspended, and practically run out of town on a rail.
What’s brilliant about the film is that escape offers no quarter. Other films might allow their protagonist to find redemption in the wilderness. In “Hello Destroyer,” he’s just as awash in violence as he was in the hockey rink -- he slogs his way through shifts at a slaughterhouse, and lives with a father who tells him he’s brought shame onto the family. Burr is a modern-day Job, unable to find relief anywhere.
The camera rarely leaves Abrahamson over the course of the film, and Abrahamson gives a performance that’s profoundly uncomfortable to watch. We can’t escape him, because he can’t escape himself, or the culture that seems intent to beat him to a bloody pulp.
The tragedy is that he remains unquestioningly loyal. What else can he do?He has to prove he’s a man, right?