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Mill Valley Film Festival Review: The Automatic Hate

daMill Valley Film FestivalUnnerving and touching, Justin Lerner’s sophomore film “The Automatic Hate” is deceptively simple, revolving around a family being faced with the sins of their past. Young chef Davis Green (Joseph Cross) has a fairly mundane life, which is thrown into chaos when a woman, Alexis (Adelaide Clemens), shows up late one night claiming to be his cousin, an absurd claim given his belief that his father is an only child. Confronting his father (Richard Schiff), a psychology professor, it’s revealed to him that Alexis indeed spoke the truth. Given Davis’ strained relationship with his girlfriend Cassie, he uses this new information as an opportunity to get away for a couple days to investigate this new side of the family.

Traveling upstate New York, Davis tracks down Alexis and meets her two sisters (Yvonne Zima, Vanessa Zima), their mother (Catherine Carlen), who doesn’t seem to care about gardening nude in the front yard, and finally his uncle Josh (Ricky Jay), whose gruff and deliberate speech declares that he has no intention of reconciling with his brother. As Davis and Alexis dig deeper into the past, they’re faced with a truth which could affect them as much as it did their parents.

If I’m being too vague, well, it’s for the best. Other reviews might reveal what is uncovered, but this film is best going into it completely blind. I’m usually not someone who cares about spoilers, but this film is a rare occasion where I beg you not to dig into spoilers. What you might read could lead you to believe that the filmmakers are just aiming for a level of forced shock value. How the events are executed is almost unbearably brutal yet beautifully and refreshingly honest. What’s more, it’s extremely touching.

Cross is a superb actor and he continues to show his strength here, up to the challenge of delivering a complex, nuanced performance; a lot of people are going to interpret his character differently, something that can be said for Alexis as well. Clemens has a ditzy innocence to her, which begins to unravel and warp and the film progresses. Again, there will be a lot to discuss with the evolution of the character, which renders writing this review frustrating because I want to talk about everything with you right this second.

Of course, it would be criminal to forget the sheer brilliance of Schiff and Jay. They have a wonderfully intense chemistry together, simultaneously hating each other yet regretting not being in each other’s lives for decades. We feel every conflicting emotion;  a simple look at the dinner table is drenched in the pain of their tragic history.

The centerpiece of the film, a reunion dinner that slowly escalates, is an absolute all timer. Yet amidst the bitterness, there film never settles for simple one-note characters. I had no idea where the film was going to go, and was constantly sucker-punched at even quiet moments between the cast. With such a taboo theme, you’ll be shocked at how moving the film is.

If I have anything negative to say, it’s that is sidelines the wives and other sisters, a missed opportunity to explore their outlook on the proceedings.

“The Automatic Hate” is beautifully acted, wonderfully shot, and perfectly paced. This is a family drama that demands to be seen in a packed house, a rarity for the genre. Keep an eye out for it, and we’ll talk when you watch it.

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I never stand in front of the elevator doors when they open. All because of the movie The Departed.

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