Fantastic Fest 2018 Review: DESTROYER, Wrestling With Demons Can Be Exhausting

Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany and Toby Kebbell star in Karyn Kusama's sterling, soul-ripping drama.

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Fantastic Fest 2018 Review: DESTROYER, Wrestling With Demons Can Be Exhausting

Jacob wrestled with an angel all night long, according to the Bible, in order to gain a blessing. Detective Erin Bell has wrestled with her own demons for years, according to Karyn Kusama's Destroyer, but what does she seek to gain?

Resolution and redemption would be the most common answers for those whose souls have been tortured over a long period of time, such as Detective Bell, inhabited by Nicole Kidman with weary resignation.

Slumped behind the wheel of her car, Bell looks incredibly haggard, as though even a shallow breath would require more strength than she can muster. A veteran detective in the Los Angeles Police Department, she shuffles warily around objects and people, well aware that no one and no thing can ever be trusted.

Years ago, when she was younger and wider-eyed and her soul had not yet hardened to the density of gravel, she embarked on a case that proved to be ruinous, leaving her in a hollowed-out shell of a body, wracked with guilt and a simmering desire for retribution. What remains of her heart and mind seizes upon a sudden realization that a mysterious man named Silas, gone for years, has returned to life in Los Angeles. Bell becomes instantly obsessed with tracking him down and, in the process, must wrestle with one personal demon after another.

As she sets off on a criscrossing path across Los Angeles that surely leads to destruction, she also ruminates unavoidably upon the people she once called friends: her police partner Chris (Sebastian Stan), criminal cohorts Toby (James Jordan), Arturo (Zack Villa), Petra (Tatiana Maslany), and enigmatic leader Silas (Toby Kebbell). She also must deal with her ex-husband (Scoot McNairy), rebellious teen daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), and Shelby's noxious boyfriend Jay (Beau Knapp), as well as a smug lawyer (Bradley Whitford).

In their original screenplay, writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have woven together an intricate tapestry that has tangled each of the characters permanently, like a spider web. They are all trapped by the past, which is a grotesque animal, to quote Of Montreal.

Destroyer makes the past something even worse, though, a haunting spectre whose hunger for souls is exceeded only by its thirst for blood. Trapped on a conveyor belt to hell, Detective Bell embraces her destiny, no matter the cost to others.

All that might sound like an all-encompassing journey into a bleak wilderness, a trip into the darkest heart of despair. In the hands of director Karyn Kusama, we can always see the sun shining through the smog, her shot selections and framing nudging the viewer through troubled times, guiding a collection of impressive actors to impressive performances, none more so than Nicole Kidman.

Her searing portrait of Detective Erin Bell is never quite inviting -- really, who wants that kind of pain? -- but it always rings true and forlorn and forsaken, driven by the kind of anger that has been buried too long and has long since begun poisoning its surroundings.

Destroyer is the kind of high-quality daytime noir that I'm glad to have seen, even as I am now not so eager to ever go there again.

The film had its Texas premiere at Fantastic Fest. It will open in theaters on December 25, 2018, via Annapurna Pictures.

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Fantastic Fest 2018Karyn KusamaNicole KidmanSebastian StanTatiana MaslanyToby Kebbell