Atlanta Film Festival 2022: Hands That Bind

Directed by: Kyle Armstrong
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Anna Harrison


“Hands That Bind” is ostensibly a Western, but it’s a Western by way of sci-fi luminaries such as Arthur C. Clarke and filmic oddballs like Stan Brackage, and as such it’s a bit hard to pin down—luckily, director and writer Kyle Armstrong controls this strange mishmash of genres with an iron fist, and the result is far more interesting than it is frustrating.

Farmhand Andy (Paul Sparks) appears, at first glance, to be the type of man whose picture you would see next to the word “farmhand” in the dictionary—he has a penchant for flannel, prays before every meal with his family, knows the land like the back of his hand, and does hard physical with nary a complaint. This work has not gone unnoticed by Andy’s boss, Mac (Nicholas Campbell), who plans to give Andy his farmhouse when he retires, but a wrench gets thrown in this plan by the arrival of Mac’s son, Dirk (Landon Liboiron).

Dirk does his best to avoid hard work, but despite this, Mac cedes the house to him, leaving Andy in the lurch. In other hands, what follows could be standard drama fare, but in Armstrong’s hands becomes something much weirder—as Andy becomes desperate, and this desperation begets immorality, he begins to descend into hell, a descent marked by cattle mutilations, exploding lightbulbs, cabinets to nowhere, and watchers in the distance. 

Yet even with the sci-fi trappings that dot the film, “Hands That Bind” never becomes true science fiction. The hints are only hints, there to wrong-foot you, there to make a simple enough character drama something truly eerie. Some of the lack of clarity can be frustrating, but by and large it elevates the film and echoes Andy’s own increasing sense of alienation, and Paul Sparks’ strong performance keeps the film engaging even as its pacing flags a bit.

Sparks is truly excellent here in a very subtle role that in lesser hands would come off as flat and passive; likewise, Liboiron brings depth and true menace to a potential one-note villain, and the supporting players (including Bruce Dern as a neighboring farmer, the remaining half of a pair of identical twins after his brother committed suicide) are uniformly excellent, as is the sublime cinematography from Mike McLaughlin, and so even if the film lags in places or doesn’t have quite enough story to back up the strong tone, “Hands That Bind” is, by and large, an engrossing treat to watch, and its originality should be celebrated.

“Hands That Bind” Trailer

“Hands That Bind” played as part of the 2022 Atlanta Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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