Setting its slack first half in Austin, Bryan Poyser’s post-mumblecore comedy “Lovers of Hate” improves immeasurably when it picks up and moves to Park City, as if in acknowledgment that the snowy home of Sundance is where an independent really gets down to business. Following the bitter rivalry between two brothers for the affections of the older man’s wife, the movie is witty only on occasion. But it lingers in the mind, thanks largely to its trio of actors — especially Alex Karpovsky, who brings a riveting sense of spontaneity to depicting the younger brother’s slow-burning rage. Regional fests will like “Hate.”
Better conceived than written (and better produced than directed), the movie began its shoot in Park City immediately following last year’s Sundance, taking shrewd advantage of the palatial ski lodge in which Austin Film Society folks had stayed during the fest. It is here that Karpovsky’s Paul, a wildly successful author of ridiculous fantasy novels, will seduce his brother’s wayward wife Diana (Heather Kafka), neither lover knowing that the cuckolded Rudy (Chris Doubek) has been crouching in various corners of the house, eavesdropping and plotting his playful revenge.
But that’s for later. Equal parts loser and slob, Rudy is introduced soaping himself up at an Austin car wash and slurping from the faucet in front of the house he used to share with Diana. Struggling in vain to write a novel called “Lovers of Hate,” misanthropic Rudy is seething with jealousy of Paul, who blows into town on a book tour and sneakily takes a fancy to the newly single Diana. Before leaving on vacation, Paul sets his poor brother up in a fancy Austin hotel, making it easier for Paul to coax Diana to meet him in Park City, which she does.
Although Rudy looks absolutely nothing like his younger brother, he has Paul’s gift for scheming and then some. Suspecting that something is going on behind his back, Rudy drives to Utah and convinces a young security guard to let him in the lodge so he can surprise his brother. Shock is more like it. Indeed, Rudy’s first of many “gotcha” tricks is amusingly nasty, for which we can thank Poyser, who does his best work in the imagining of what the hidden brother will do next to defecate on the lovers’ would-be idyll.
In a film dependent on our understanding of the characters’ geographic relation to one another, Poyser doesn’t do enough to delineate the space — we just know that the house is big. Camera placement is downright incompetent at times, while the DV image looks muddy, particularly in frequent instances of low light.
That the film works at all is primarily a credit to the cast. As a woman who wanders from one brother to the other, Kafka believably conveys the character’s nervous mix of excitement and extreme guilt. And Doubek, often acting from within absurdly contorted positions, gives an intriguing hint of what “Something Wild” would’ve looked like with Jeff Daniels in the Ray Liotta part.
But it’s Karpovsky, a filmmaker himself (his “Woodpecker” is a mock-docu gem), whose effortlessly edgy aura lends the movie a much-needed measure of ambiguity. As he did in Andrew Bujalski’s great “Beeswax,” Karpovsky gives the impression of directing himself — which he actually did in his film “The Hole Story” and really ought to do again.