Pardon the reductive statement but there are, probably since time immemorial, three kinds of films. The first deals with big concepts, the second deals with closer character studies, and the third mixes the first two. Multi-hyphenate filmmaker Kyle Armstrong’s Hands That Bind is part of the third kind. He has less than two hours of material to use before viewers know how successful his mix is. It focuses on Andy Hollis (Paul Sparks), who deals with a lot of things. But for one night, he just wants to take a break from his wife Susan’s (Susan Kent) legitimate concerns about their future in the farm where he works as a farmhand. He opens a pack of cigarettes and smokes one. And then he looks out to the farm where strange lights keep appearing. I’ll explain more of the Hollis’s more realistic problems below.
Now here we are. Andy’s work for his boss, Mac Longridge (Nicholas Campbell) was fine until the latter’s prodigal son Dirk (Landon Liboiron) walks in. Dirk moves next door and is vocal about him wanting Andy to leave. He’s trying to, as he asks around for farm work, (un)surprisingly lacking in 1980s rural Alberta. Not even a friend (two time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern) can help him get a job. The other thing to do is to stay and somehow get Dirk out of the farm. As Hands That Bind progresses, it shows how Andy is better than Dirk. But is that enough?. Sure, it inserts subplots about Dirk’s contentious relationship with his own wife to reinforce how bad he is. This is my ambivalence starts kicking in. Maybe it’s obvious to make the Hollises and the junior Longridge’s to be each other’s mirrors, but it’s better than nothing.
Hands That Bind has some merits saving it from being purely bad. The cinematography gives us some glimpses of Andy’s descent as well as the area’s eeriness. There are also some great moments of sound design that complements its subtle synth score, but these glimpses are too few and far between. It’s easy to make Andy relatable because it seems like more and more people are experiencing what he’s going through, regardless of what province viewers may be living in. But there’s a distance between what the film is trying to say and what we get. This is the one of the few instances when pulling back is worse than pushing for its concepts more. Even the kitchen sink arguments between Andy and Susan don’t help with the push that this film badly needs. These actors can only do so much to elevate this material.
Hands That Bind, a film that bounced through festival limbo for two years, finally comes soon on demand and in select Canadian theatres.