MVFF Review: The Automatic Hate

MVFFThe Automatic Hate begins by treating the viewer like an adult. The character of Cassie, played by Deborah Ann Woll (“Daredevil,” “True Blood”), is seen crying and our main character Davis, played by Joseph Cross (Running with Scissors) is trying to be both reassuring and respectful enough to want her to come to him when she is ready to talk. At this point, the viewer doesn’t know what is going on with their relationship, but the amount of information we gather about these two people within the first 5 minutes is enough to understand that they are equipped to handle life events together in a mature way, even if that might mean spending a few days apart to let whatever is weighing on Cassie to dissipate before they can have a discussion again. For a film to do this to its viewer is exciting. By a few minutes in, when we are introduced to the first character other than Cassie and Davis, it is understood that the audience will be expected to handle the events of the film with a similar level of maturity as the characters.

The Automatic Hate

That first new character to whom we are introduced is Alexis, played by Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby), who introduces herself as a cousin to an incredulous Davis. As far as Davis knew to that point, his father was a single child, so it would not be possible for cousins or uncles to exist, as Alexis claims. However, through some brief and somewhat hostile interactions with his father, played by Richard Schiff (“The West Wing”) and grandfather, he learns that Alexis might be telling the truth. In an effort that serves two purposes for him—giving his girlfriend some space and exploring the reality of his newly discovered extended family—Davis takes a trip out into the country to the small town in which his uncle’s family lives. Upon arrival, he learns that he has more than one cousin and that while his uncle Josh, played by Ricky Jay (The Prestige, Boogie Nights), is glad to have had the opportunity to meet his nephew, he has absolutely no intention of reconciling any differences with Davis’ father, despite the insistence of the newly united Davis and Alexis.

From this moment, the film moves forward to an action that forces the hands of the two stubborn brothers, wherein they are put into each other’s proximity and nudged into trying to deal with decades of animosity and eventually revealing to Davis what led to the family schism in the first place. It would be cruel to discuss any more details about the specifics of the story of this film, for the most enjoyable times are found in the brilliant pace, tone, topics, and maturity of the film as it progresses. It might even be too much to watch a trailer for The Automatic Hate; just find a way to see this film.

The Automatic Hate gets a lot of things right. It is an understated film with many layers going on underneath it. Following in the tradition of tense family dramas like The Celebration and A Christmas Tale, this film does a wonderful job of allowing small moments like the unnerving stare of estranged siblings across a dinner table to give the viewer a deep look into the psyche of its characters without having to explain everything. The director, Justin Lerner, is confident in his audience. He allows us, free from hand-holding, to pick up on subtle facial expressions, to follow the motivations, and to, regardless of their actions, empathize with the humanity in all of the characters. With a host of dramatic elements to explore and resolve, the film’s pace is kept right at a perfect level to encourage comprehension and interest.

One of the greatest successes of The Automatic Hate is that the film never tries to be anything but itself. The viewer is treated to a tight, character-driven story that expertly sets up believable tension and delivers on each of its goals. It leaves the viewer wanting to keep following the characters, but still satisfied by the answers to the main questions that were raised. While the specific events of the story may not have happened to every family, anyone who has ever had any skeletons in the family closet will be immediately in tune with the passion, secrecy, and unspoken intimacy that these characters bring to this film. Almost all the characters are deep and complex and human without having to sit and dump exposition at the audience to get us to understand the stakes. Lerner understands how families work and he uses that knowledge to great effect.

For all the good the director (and likely the cinematographer and editor, who should also be thanked for excellent composition and a sometimes brisk, but always very clear pace) brings to this film, the performances of the actors are truly what makes it feel believable and alive. Joseph Cross and Adelaide Clemens as Davis and Alexis are given the reigns throughout the majority of the runtime and both of them execute with the right mix of reserved, curious innocence and confident, youthful vigor. Davis gets to walk a good number of lines in the eyes of the audience and the deftness that Cross brings to his performance is worthy of praise. Similarly, Alexis has a tendency to be playfully coquettish, unconcerned by consequences, but simultaneously more aware than she lets on. Clemens balances these nuances of her character well while she kickstarts the majority of the actions in the film.

The two big supporting roles of the distant brothers Josh and Ronald are also played with a realism and intensity by Ricky Jay and Richard Schiff. The most memorable scene between the two is a suspenseful family dinner with a buildup of years of these two very well-educated and actually quite similar brothers having acted as if the other didn’t even exist. Ronald’s unshakable stances, backed by his possibly rigid background in psychology clash perfectly with Josh’s near-apathetic and hard-working, nose-to-the-ground, c’est-la-vie attitude. The emotions on the faces of these two characters intermittently simmer and boil to the absolute delight of a rapt audience.

The Automatic Hate is a tremendous achievement. It keeps its audience in the dark for the right amount of time and treats mature topics with a welcomed maturity. The only addition one might make could be some more lines from or fleshing out of the tertiary characters (the wives of Josh and Ronald as well as the two sisters of Alexis). Some of their thoughts, caring reassurances, or reactions may have brought their characters a little more depth than what was presented. That is hardly a big deal though, as what is presented is magnificently delivered by the characters and their interactions. The Automatic Hate is thrilling, charming, funny, uncomfortable, and provokes conversation. Grab some friends and seek it out upon wider release.

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

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