Set in 1980s Alberta, Hands that Bind tells the story of Andy (Paul Sparks), a hired hand who works hard to support his wife and children. Working tirelessly for Mac (Nicholas Campbell), Andy views his mentor as a father-figure to replace his own estranged parent. Andy hopes that Mac feels the same and secretly hopes that he will hand over the family farm after he retires. However, things change when Mac’s prodigal son arrives. Suddenly, Mac agrees to give his son his perceived ‘birthright’, leaving Andy in the lurch. At the same time, Andy, Mac and his son are left to unravel the mystery of strange occurrences that are happening around the farm, creating chaos amidst their quiet world.
Written and directed by Kyle Armstrong, Hands that Bind operates on a slow burn. This is a film that’s meant to depict everyday life in the Albertan plains but gradually builds in intensity as the pieces of its story are moved around the board. Conversations about the burden of debt and dealing with family seem mundane at first but, make no mistake, everything here is intentional. In this way, Hands holds the viewer’s attention as each piece matters in the mystery that they’re unraveling.
Part of the success of the film lies at the feet of its lead. In Sparks, Armstrong has found a man who is both empathetic and despicable at the same time. Andy is meant to be a ‘good man’ yet Armstrong also lets us see glimpses of the potential poison that lies beneath the surface. It’s a difficult line to walk but Armstrong does so with strength and conviction.
With its emphasis on toxic masculinity, Armstrong uses his Hands to start a conversation about the nature of manhood. Although he seems to have a gentle spirit and loves his wife dearly, Andy comes from a male-dominated tradition. In his home, he believes he makes the decisions and feels responsible for the family finances. (“That’s just the way it is,” he growls.) The world around him has changed but he clings to his views as a piece of his soul. In this way, Armstrong uses Andy to explore the damage that can be done as masculine pride takes root within the soul.
As such, Hands uses Andy’s journey to wrestle with the dark side of humanity. As he battles the brutality within, the viewer watches as poor choices lead to compromise. With every bad decision, Andy inches closer to potential destruction.
But what may be most disturbing is how easy (and normal) those decisions are.
Faced with genuine life struggles, Andy’s actions are often entirely justifiable (until, of course, they aren’t anymore.) In this way, Hands reminds the viewer that these falls from grace frequently begin with the brokenness of the soul. When that brokenness isn’t dealt with properly, it can fester and cause our inner demons to gain further power.
In this way, there’s a deeper complexity to Hands that Bind that makes it even more compelling than the secrets that it untangles. Though there seem to be otherworldly events in play, the true darkness of Armstrong’s script lies within the hearts of its characters. As they wrestle with their brokenness, the film is striking how easily one can find themselves in over their heads, especially if they make compromises along the way.
Hands that Bind is available in theatres now.