×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Automatic Hate’

The family you never knew you had turns out to be the family you may wish you never met in this arresting, skillfully directed seriocomedy.

With:
Joseph Cross, Adelaide Clemens, Deborah Ann Woll, Richard Schiff, Ricky Jay, Yvonne Zima, Vanessa Zima, Catherine Carlen, Caitlin O’Connell, George Riddle.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3122842/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_2

The family you never knew you had turns out to be the family you may wish you never met in Justin Lerner’s “The Automatic Hate.” This arresting seriocomedy deftly walks a tightrope between droll and tense, over a gaping pit of crazy. It will require very careful handling to access appreciative audiences, not least because broadcasting some of its more marketable aspects would amount to major plot spoilage. Film Movement currently plans a limited theatrical release early next year.

Domestic life is already bumpy enough for mild-mannered Bostonian Davis (Joseph Cross): We meet him just as he’s returning from the bathroom to find himself locked out of his own bedroom because (for reasons that are only made clear much later) his professional-dancer girlfriend, Cassie (Deborah Ann Woll), abruptly needs some “alone time.” He’s a successful chef, yet his emotionally distant parents, both academics (Richard Schiff and Caitlin O’Connell), treat that choice of profession as a baffling personal error. He’s further unmoored when a strange young woman, Alexis (Adelaide Clemens), who appears to be stalking him, introduces herself as his cousin — only Davis never knew he had any cousins, or even that his father had a brother.

An investigation of his parents’ basement and brief questioning of his senile grandfather (George Riddle) turns up evidence supporting Alexis’ claim, though it’s apparent that some bad blood between the branches of the family has kept them isolated from one another for decades. Nevertheless, Davis tracks his newfound relative to an upstate New York hamlet where she still lives on the family farm with two sisters (Yvonne and Vanessa Zima) and their parents Ricky Jay and Catherine Carlen). This clan’s slightly chaotic, hippie-ish lifestyle could hardly be more different from his own yuppiefied existence, or his parents’ stiff-necked respectability. An only child, Davis is thrilled to suddenly have three very fun “sisters.” They enjoy his company, too — perhaps a little too much, where the impulsive and needy Alexis is concerned.

Popular on Variety

But the ruse that he’s simply a new friend to the siblings doesn’t fool Jay’s Uncle Josh, who recognizes him as the child of the brother he refuses to discuss. A chance discovery in the attic of a disused shed teasingly suggests one possible explanation for that long, bitter estrangement. But then a death in the family forces a reunion at which all long-simmering secrets and hostilities finally come tumbling out. This third act hangs largely on a virtuoso dinner set piece whose partial scoring to a Jacques Brel song is, like much of “The Automatic Hate” (including that title), at once mysterious, loopy and just right.

The beguilingly off-kilter film manages to be unsettling in an initially comic mode of dysfunction that grows darker by small degrees, with issues of possible mental illness and worse rumbling beneath the surface. Just when the pic seems to have reached a logical endpoint, a series of savvy epilogues take it further, while underlining perhaps the most definitive statement by a character here: Uncle Josh’s grim acknowledgment that “What we have between us is unresolvable.” Though some viewers may find the sum results unsatisfying and/or unpleasant, it’s a rare film that’s able to maintain such a tricky seriocomic tone throughout.

That balance is as attributable to Lerner and Katherine O’Brien’s inventive screenplay as it is to the former’s very skillful direction, which makes consistent, distinctive use of psychologically fraught quiet. Performances are pitch-perfect, notably Cross’ appealingly relatable, kicked-around protagonist and Aussie actress Clemens’ alternately delightful and alarmingly mercurial self-appointed soulmate. Woll also impresses as the character who turns out to be the most stable, and thus most appalled, outside witness to an escalating familial freakshow.

Tech/design contributions are equally astute, notably the widescreen lensing by Quyen Tran, who also shot Lerner’s festival prize-winning, likewise commercially challenging debut feature, “Girlfriend” (2010).

Film Review: 'The Automatic Hate'

Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 15, 2015. (Also in SXSW, Seattle, Busan film festivals.) Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: A Film Movement release of a BN Films production, in association with Caliber Media Co., FortWinter Films and Revek Entertainment. Produced by Lacey Leavitt, Justin Lerner, Alix Madigan-Yorking. Executive producers, Lucas Akoskin, Alex Garcia, Gabriela Revilla Lugo, Kerianne Flynn, Daniel Alexander, John Alexander.

Crew: Directed by Justin Lerner. Screenplay, Lerner, Katherine O’Brien. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Quyen Tran; editor, Jeffrey J. Castelluccio; music, Hunter Brown; music supervisor, Patricia Joseph; production designer, Alexandra Regazzoni; costume designer, June Suepunpuck; supervising art director, O’Brien; set decorator, Rayna Savrosa; sound, Eric Bautista, Jarrett Depasquale, Gabriel Cyr; sound designer, Jeffery Alan Jones; 1st assistant director, Michael Whitecar; casting, Brad Gilmore.

With: Joseph Cross, Adelaide Clemens, Deborah Ann Woll, Richard Schiff, Ricky Jay, Yvonne Zima, Vanessa Zima, Catherine Carlen, Caitlin O’Connell, George Riddle.

More Film

  • Days of Christmas

    Pau Freixas on Netflix Spanish Miniseries ‘Days of Christmas’

    BARCELONA – A Netflix original produced by Spain’s Filmax, “Days of Christmas” marks the new series of Pau Freixas, one of the highest-profile creators on Spain’s vibrant drama series scene. A three-part miniseries, “Days” will be made available worldwide by Netflix on Dec. 6. The story takes place over three different Christmas days, the first [...]

  • Writers-Room-Panel

    Ventana Sur: Argentine Directors on Benefit of Writers’ Room (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Ventana Sur hosted two of the country’s leading screenwriters to relay the benefits of utilizing a writers’ room while conceptualizing fiction projects, delivered to a packed auditorium on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Fiction Factory series held at the UCA Campus in Puerto Madero. Director Daniel Burman, known for films such [...]

  • Kathleen Kennedy to Receive Prestigious BAFTA

    Kathleen Kennedy to Receive Prestigious BAFTA Fellowship

    Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and producer of scores of movies, will receive a prestigious BAFTA fellowship, the British Academy’s highest honor, in February. Across a 40-year career, Kennedy has produced pictures that have garnered 25 Oscars and more than 100 BAFTA nominations and 27 wins. She will be honored with the fellowship at BAFTA’s [...]

  • Lee Byung-hun stars in "The Man

    Lee Byung-hun’s ‘Man Standing Next’ Secures 2020 Asia Theatrical Releases (EXCLUSIVE)

    Showbox’s political drama “The Man Standing Next” has secured releases in multiple territories in Asia. The film was picked up by Falcon for Indonesia, The Klockworx for Japan, Viva Communications for the Philippines, Shaw Renters for Singapore and by Moviecloud for Taiwan. Release dates in each territory have yet to be confirmed. Set 40 days [...]

  • Lulu Wang and Zhao Shuzhen'The Farewell'

    Zhao Shuzhen on Stealing Scenes in Her First American Movie, 'The Farewell'

    A year ago, 76-year-old actor Zhao Shuzhen shot her first American movie, “The Farewell,” based on writer-director Lulu Wang’s very personal family story. In November, Shuzhen found herself making her first visit to the States, where she earned standing ovations from audiences and posed for pictures with stars like Robert Pattinson at parties. Then she [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Director Lorene Scafaria

    'Hustlers' DP Todd Banhazl Discusses How Not to Shoot With the Male Gaze

    Cinematographer Todd Banhazl had to rethink conventional wisdom in shooting Jennifer Lopez starrer “Hustlers.” What sort of approach did you and director Lorene Scafaria discuss in terms of how you were going to shoot the women and create these strong images of strippers? From the beginning, we talked about this idea of control and the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content