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Hands That Bind

A stunning film with the potential to be a masterwork, the most frustrating thing about “Hands That Bind” is how great it very nearly is.

Hands That Bind

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Content Warning: Suicide

I always opt for amplification over redundancy. So, let’s open by drawing attention to Kyle Levesque’s reflections on Hands That Bind, which I wholeheartedly agree with. If you don’t click on my recommended sidebar, the bottom line is: Ugh. Gorgeous (GORGEOUS) film ruined by a rushed, insufficient ending.  

Below is an excerpt from that piece that hones in on my beef with the film. (I will spend time exploring this point because my disappointment in this film could be described as mirroring the expertly suppressed look of anger on Paul Sparks’ face through the vast majority of the film.)

There’s no point investigating the homosociality of Dirk and Andy, because the film doesn’t see any real point to it. There’s no point investigating the aliens, because the film doesn’t see any point. There’s no point to Mac’s tragedy, or Andy’s death, or the mutilated cows, or Andy’s unexplored past, or Hank’s suicide, or Andy’s dead/missing Father, or the nightmares, or the supernatural, or literally anything else, because the film doesn’t see the point.

Your Honour, I’d like to add that we never found out if Andy’s wife, Susan, is pregnant (she says she’s not) or ill. 

Let’s spend a few moments picking deeper into a few of these (ahoy, spoilers ahead!). 

To build on Levesque’s point, I’d love backstory on Hank; I felt a deep connection to his character and do feel mental health issues in rural and farming communities could use attention.

The mental health of farmers is a serious and very current issue in Alberta and across Canada, being researched by local academic institutions and receiving support from government to build resources. I’m a huge supporter of using art and film to raise underrepresented and important topics in a way that’s accessible for folks who might not inherently find a connection with the experience or issue. 

“I was just working around the barn. Got tangled up with this rope. Sorry.” [Hank to Andy after Andy arrives while Hank is trying to unalive himself]

Side note: This quote offers a lovely glimpse at one of the strengths of Hands That Bind. Writer and director Kyle Armstrong builds this world and the characters in it with gentle yet deliberate care and attention. This is a very Canadian moment; even a suicide attempt ends with an apology. 

Or, please reveal the identity and origin story of the Hannibal Lecter individual or underground Midsommar cult responsible for the cows. Like, how can you leave me with this? 

“There’s no blood anywhere. Look at the cut. It’s like a surgeon done it with a goddamn scalpel or something. So they took the udder, they took the jowels, they took the eyes.”

Next, there is so much more to dig through with respect to father-son dynamics, including the intrigue around Andy’s dad’s death or disappearance.

We’re introduced to a handful of unhealthy father-and-son relationships with more than a hint of toxic masculinity.

There’s Andy and his dad, Andy and his son, Mac and Dirk, and if we’re layering in a chosen family, Mac and Andy, and Andy and Hank. Every family has their issues, eh? 

[Discussion between Susan (Susan Kent) and Andy Hollis (Paul Sparks) after Andy snapped at their son over dinner.] 

“You really hurt his feelings.”
“Yeah, well, he needs to toughen up.”
“He’s ten.”
“My dad would have taken a belt to me when I was his age.”
“He doesn’t have to be like you. You sure as hell don’t have to be like your dad.”
“I’m not. But he needs to learn his manners.”
“You should say you’re sorry.”
“Maybe.”

Shift these father-son dynamics over to the peer relationship between Andy and Dirk, holy powder keg, Batman.

As Levesque comments, there is a malicious melody between these two that does not get explored satisfactorily. Their crescendo needed a few more notes to have maximum impact. I mean, you can’t give us such a powerful eye thrashing in a bar and not unpack some of it before hitting the anticipated note. 

“Hold my beer while I dance with your wife.” [Dirk to Andy]

All of this piqued — and still piques my interest; that’s how strong the first 90 minutes of Hands That Bind are.

How meticulously engaging Armstrong’s and cinematographer Mike McLaughlin’s efforts feel.

I’m fully prepared (borderline begging) for the opportunity to forgive the ending if provided multiple Yellowstone-esque spinoffs that offer the meat and potatoes I need in this proper prairie-set meal. 

Because McLaughlin offered stunning visuals. Armstrong proved a capable director. Even the set design and costumes were solid.

I’m the type who notices the little things, like Mac’s wife delivering a Saskatoon berry pie and the period-appropriate Alberta license plate. Paul Spark’s lingering and loping style works for Andy. Landon Liboiron imbues danger deftly into Dirk. Bruce Dern holds my heart as Hank. There are healthy cattle in this herd, both cast and crew

I think this is just a case of the herding dog eating my homework with respect to the last act of the script. I’m left wanting.

The first hour and a half of Hands That Bind is worth your time, though. Hell, as I’ve clearly outlined above, it’s worth investing in Kyle Armstrong and Mike McLaughlin in the future. It would even be worth letting them craft each of the branches of this story that went unanswered.

I’d climb that tree — one, ideally, without a butchered cow in it.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3

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