Destroyer: Director Karyn Kusama View

Karyn Kusama:

Destroyer is, at its core, a film about confronting your mistakes and making the brave decision to be accountable for your actions. Within the relatable frameworks of crime thriller and cop movie, it’s also an insistent character study, hinging on the wounded but resilient psychic landscape of an LAPD detective named Erin Bell. The criminal underworld she investigates, alongside a storytelling structure that allows for narrative surprise, recall films like Heat and The Usual Suspects. But the film also allows intimate access to her in a tradition of genre films as varied as Taxi Driver, A Prophet, or Nightcrawler. It’s made more modern and relevant by its complicated female lead, and I can’t think of a time when I’ve loved a character more.

The look and feel of the film reflects the world of extremes it inhabits: a seductive mirage of blasting Los Angeles sunlight and dreamy blankets of coastal fog, fueled by the sonic assault of 1990’s desert-metal and the pop confections of today’s top 40 radio. Though Destroyer moves between two distinct timeframes, it primarily occupies the Los Angeles of today, a 21st century melting pot of corrupt lawyers and small-time crooks, gun dealers and local preachers, hard-working middle-class laborers and charismatic charlatans. This vast city, connected by sprawling freeway systems and dotted with neighborhoods as diverse as its people – is itself a mirror of Erin Bell’s divided soul: humming with secrets and lies, struggling to find what’s real in a landscape of carefully cultivated surfaces. While much of the visual approach to the film should be undeniably visceral and raw, there are opportunities for unexpected beauty and lyricism. The moments of redemption, both visual and moral, should be rare but hard-won.

Destroyer aims to uncover all kinds of primal “destroyers” – money, greed, hunger – but will also reveal the insidious qualities of memory, denial and the inexorable march of time itself. While society’s destructive impulses seem to have reached an apocalyptic peak, it’s still the peculiar will of an individual to sabotage herself that I find the most compelling and human to explore. In witnessing Erin Bell’s selfdestruction, we are forced to confront our own personal “destroyers.” In the end she pays a terrible price for her redemption, but she finds it nonetheless. The audience experiences the spiral of regret and shame that powers her odyssey back into the past, but also witnesses the heroic journey of a morally compromised character, a woman who eventually decides to right a wrong at any cost.

As a parable, Destroyer is a “woman-against-herself” story, a sustained howl whose story, I hope, belongs to all of us.