Hockey is easy to glorify on film. From crowd pleasing chest-thumpers like Miracle and The Rocket to quotable fist-pumpers like Slap Shot and Goon (and this month’s Goon: Last of the Enforcers), there’s something about watching modern-day ice gladiators that appeals to my sense of patriotism and my blood-lust. I’m a sucker for the bone crushing sounds of hard hits and fast fists. But Hello Destroyer is not a typical hockey film. It’s only about hockey inasmuch as that sport, for many young men in this country, is a means to escape rural desolation, and pursue some modicum of greatness.
Canadians spend a lot of time deifying hockey heroes. Hello Destroyer, chips away at the myth of the hockey god to show us the mere mortal inside.
There is a moment early on in the film when the protagonist, Tyson, speaks of his childhood phobia – silence. He tells a teammate how he would physically react to silence, with nausea and headaches so bad his parents would have to soothe him with music to drown it out. He tells this anecdote matter-of-factly, and it is the longest monologue he has in the film. Your thoughtful sound design fills in the rest of the blanks of this hulking man-child’s experience on and off the ice. He may be a destroyer on the rink, but he is prisoner in his own head.
Tyson is an enforcer for the junior hockey league in British Columbia, and though he is part of a team, you make his isolation obvious. From the raucous locker room hazing rituals, to the drowned out, ambient noise of the post-game shower, it becomes clear that Tyson is not like the others, though he very much longs to be. In one effective shot, we see a close-up of an uneasy Tyson on the rink, his helmet and visor awash in the strobing neon of the pre-game chaos, as ear-splitting techno music throbs around him. Writer/director Kevan Funk shows us Tyson’s separateness, but you make us hear it. Tyson struggles to belong – to the team, to the family that hosts him, to the paternalistic coaches who encourage his latent aggression – but he never quite figures out how. When he is summarily dismissed for being too effective as an enforcer, he retreats like a scolded animal, never quite understanding what it is he did wrong.
Jared Abrahamson anchors this film with a subtle intensity. His Tyson is wholly believable as both a brutal force on the ice and a tortured child in the real world. Your sound design echoes this dichotomy perfectly, with abruptly loud noises like the saw Tyson uses to cut slabs of beef in the slaughterhouse, followed by stark silences as he walks the grey, wintery streets of suburban B.C. and rural Alberta, his hoodie zipped overhead to protect him. Perhaps the most deafening silence of all comes from within the walls of Tyson’s family home, where his parents barely acknowledge him. His painfully awkward attempts to express himself, and his inability to form any meaningful human connections are agonizing to watch, and while Funk’s prolonged shots of Tyson’s isolation from the world eventually grow tiresome, Abrahamson’s portrayal never does.
You punctuate this film with noises we are all familiar with – sticks hitting ice, pads hitting boards, coaches and players hurling insults – as well as the white-noise monotony and silences that punctuate Tyson’s discomfort in his own skin. Hockey fans, and fans of hockey films, are used to watching underdog athletes rise to victory, but rarely do we see the inner life of the young men (boys, really) who fail to succeed. Even more rare that we get to hear it. Hello Destroyer reminds us of a sad truth; for some players, there are no glory days.