Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition is a film that pursues truth through artifice.

That truth is emotional, as experienced through the central characters, but the general motivation appears to be some form of universal truth. That artifice comes from the characters and situations with which Vallée chooses to populate his film.

Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife Julia (Heather Lind) are involved in a car accident. Julia is killed but Davis escapes completely unscathed. Davis isn’t affected emotionally by the death of his wife, much to the frustration of her loving parents. He admits to himself and to a handful of strangers that he never really loved her. His behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, as he develops an obsession with dismantling things that don’t work. The idea, of course, is that Davis, like the things he is dismantling, must be taken apart in order to see what’s really wrong with them. If you don’t get it the first time, not to worry, for Vallée’s message is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

The principle problem with Demolition is that it’s interested in issues of fundamental humanity and yet the central character around which everything pivots simply doesn’t reflect genuine humanity. Davis behaves like an alien for much of the film. The reappraisal of and breaking down of life and its quirky social formalities has been done before, better and without being nearly as self-satisfying as Demolition is.

In cinemas: July 14, 2016
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée