A coal black comedy from Canadian filmmaking powerhouse Bruce McDonald with an exceptional script and breakout leading performance from Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, The Husband takes a long hard look at what makes a person a monster and the people who get drawn into the monster’s aftermath, creating deep, traumatic personal demons that can create new monsters. It moves deftly between being laugh out loud funny (even if no one would laugh if this actually happened to them), disarmingly poignant, and deeply unsettling. It’s thrilling to behold and handily one of the best films of McDonald’s career.
Hank (Lokos) has recently had his entire life destroyed and he hasn’t found anything within himself to better the situation. He’s raising an infant son on his own thanks to the imprisonment of his wife (Sarah Allen). Her crime: sexual relations with a 14 year old boy. Since then, his life has been filled with doubt, questions, and a lack of purpose. He hates his current gig as a graphic designer for an ad firm. He refuses to hang out with friends. He has a friendly but arm’s length friendship with his wife’s father (Stephen McHattie). Nothing brings him solace, not even flashbacks to moments of happiness and vitality because those will just open up more emotional wounds to pick at. He even refuses to sleep in their old bed, crashing every night on what looks to be a rather uncomfortable couch. With his wife’s impending parole on the horizon, the only thing Hank thinks he can do to gain closure is to track down and shake down her 14-year old lover (Dylan Authors) for answers.
McDonald might seem like an odd choice for a coal black comedy with serious societal taboos many other directors might not touch, but he uses every trick he’s written into his songbook to great effect. It’s a briskly paced thrill to watch, and at just a shade under 80 minutes without credits, McDonald makes every moment and beat count. His love for siding with outcasts put into opposition against a society gone mad (as evidenced in Pontypool, Hard Core Logo, and The Tracy Fragments) comes back to the front here, but with a side of necessary judgment. Not everything that Hank does can be condoned, and some of it is downright reprehensible. McDonald compensates for this by wonderfully playing up the fact that there isn’t a single other character that could ever understand what Hank is going through. He becomes almost sympathetic by omission, creating scenes that are visually and aurally distancing to make Hank appear like an ineffective ghost that keeps getting shat on who’s about to turn into a vengeful poltergeist. His use of montage to show inner turmoil has also never been put to better use than it has here.
McDonald also gives Lokos adequate room for a performance that has clearly been thought out in advance thanks to the actor’s screenwriting credit alongside Kelly Harms. Hank cycles through a lot of different emotions: sadness, anger, blissful ignorance that anything could be wrong, but even then one thing remains the same, his body language. While I viewed the film once when it debuted at TIFF (where I liked it, but saw a rough version of the film), I noticed how good Lokos was at conveying the soul of the character. Upon a second watch and closer inspection, Lokos’ performance is astoundingly nuanced. Hank can never look anyone in the eye unless he has to, and you can even see Lokos thinking within a scene if the person he’s talking about needs to see his eyes to believe whatever lie he might be telling them about being fine. When he’s satisfied with getting out some of his rage, he cracks his back and preens like a peacock. Most importantly, he does a stellar job of making the film’s core question interesting: Can he have his wife home and not know why or if he does find closure, can he have her home at all?
Lokos also has a great cast to work with even in the film’s smaller roles. Allen is a perfect emotional foil and perfectly plays up a character doing everything they can to avoid the truth even after the consequences have been laid out in front of them. The final prison visit between Lokos and Allen is one of the best scenes in any film this year (or last when I first saw it). Authors does a fine job as the confident teen who still can’t understand sexuality enough to give an increasingly erratic and harassing Hank anything close to an answer, let along the “right” answer. German actor August Diehl steals a few scenes as probably the one true friend Hank has left (and the person Hank most wants to use since he teaches at the teen’s school). McDonald vet McHattie also gets in a couple of great moments where he has to try and talk sense into his son-in-law.
The Husband is a huge success for everyone involved and a showcase of top notch work all around. Despite Denis Villeneuve’s also really great Enemy coming out this weekend, this is truly the best Canadian film to come out in this still young year, thus far, and it’s strong enough to perpetually hang around the top of that list.