Demolition is a strange and compelling film, misleadingly described by Wikipedia as a romantic comedy. Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an investment banker whose wife dies in a horrific car accident. On the day of her death, Davis attempts to purchase a packet of M&M’s from the hospital vending machine, only for the machine to steal his money. Dealing with the numbness he feels towards his wife’s passing, Davis begins baring his soul in a complaint letter to Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer service manager at the vending machine firm. They continue to exchange letters and phone calls until they begin stalking one another and meet. Thus begins an intense relationship as they bond over their emotional anxieties of love, adulthood and identity, including Davis’ loss, and Karen’s inability to be a mother.
This contrived premise is as strange to watch as it sounds on paper – it sets the stage for a film that is often uncomfortable for the viewer. Far from a criticism, this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. From the early stages, it is clear that you are not watching rational characters, and every action, and the possible conclusion, is hard to see coming. Is Davis’ behaviour part of a bigger downward spiral than grief? What will become of Karen’s son?
Impressively, the film’s script manages to tie many unanswered questions, loose ends, and red-herrings together, in a way that both makes perfect sense but is wholly unexpected.
However, whilst admirably acted, competently shot, and occasionally funny, the film never quite has the emotional impact it strives for. A less generous reading of the unpredictability of the film can just as easily be attributed to vague scripting, poor scene direction, and poor characterisation. One is left with a film that is an extended meditation on grief and emotional trauma, which makes for great conversation on the walk home, but is not wholly satisfying.