The Automatic Hate (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by Justin Lerner, and starring Joseph Cross, Adelaide Clemens, Deborah Ann Woll, Richard Schiff, Ricky Jay, Yvonne Zima, Vanessa Zima, and Catherine Carlen.
Today, it is difficult to think of a topic that would make movie viewers flinch at the very thought of it. We pride ourselves on our open-mindedness and refusal to let our personal prejudices color our reception of even the most controversial topics. The subject that director Justin Lerner explores in The Automatic Hate, however, firmly reminds audiences that taboos still exist and forces them to ponder, if not determine, exactly how far tolerance goes before it becomes intolerable.
Chances are Davis Green (Joseph Cross), a lanky, bearded twenty-something cook who lives in the city, thought of himself in such terms. Perhaps his beautiful ballerina girlfriend Cassie (Deborah Ann Woll) and his accomplished developmental psychologist father Ronald (Richard Schiff) believed this about themselves as well. Any such preconceptions of themselves are quickly dispelled though, when a stranger arrives on Davis’ doorstep and identifies herself as Alexis Green (Adelaide Clemens), a cousin of his.
At first dismissive of the strange girl’s claims, Davis uncovers evidence that there might be something to them and proceeds to investigate. As he leaves the city for the countryside, he discovers that not only does he have a cousin, but her father, his uncle Josh (Ricky Jay), was banished from the family after he had sexual intercourse with his sister Rebecca. An attraction that, much to Davis’ (and presumably viewers’) horror, seems to have passed down to Alexis and him.
As shocking as the material may be to the characters’ and audience, the film doesn’t handle it with any more gravity than it does anything else. On the contrary, Davis’ and Alexis’ relationship is treated as yet another awkward interaction between the movie’s cast, of which there are already plenty by the time they prepare to consummate their forbidden passion. For instance, the first time Davis’ drives out to his relatives’ farm, he sees his aunt Sarah (Catherine Carlen) wearing nothing more than a hat as she nonchalantly waters her plants. Later on, Davis is having breakfast with the family after spending the night and waking up to find Alexis in bed next to him. After failing to get his daughters to help him kill one of his pigs, Josh asks Davis to join him. When Davis protests, Josh plainly says, “Well, you’re f**king my daughter, the least you can do is keep me some company while I kill a pig.” Unsettling low-key moments like these comprise much of the movie and make it much more effective than it would be if it focused solely on shock value.
Interestingly, the film’s restrained, almost humble sensibility seems to either prevent or disincline it from taking a position on incestuous relationships. This neutrality is most apparent in the argument between Josh and Ronald over who was responsible for Rebecca’s death. Josh holds that Ronald bears ultimate responsibility for exposing their relationship to everyone and consequentially driving her to suicide, while Ronald maintains that she never would have took her own life if she and Josh hadn’t had sex with each other. The question of responsibility goes unresolved because a physical altercation erupts between the two before a definitive answer can be made. In addition, the film refrains from taking a side on the issue of whether Davis should remain with Cassie or pursue relations with Alexis further. He is clearly torn between his loyalty to his girlfriend and his attraction to his cousin, but never once does it seem the film passes judgement on his final choice.
From the face of it, The Automatic Hate is not – and was not meant – for everyone. It’s a relatively quiet film that plods leisurely along to an unexpectedly-intense conclusion, whereupon which one is shocked to realize how quickly it actually moved. While this aspect of the movie might be digestible for those who are used to the unconventional, the subject matter will no doubt be a hurdle that even hardened cinema aficionados may have trouble overcoming. If you have strong convictions or just a strong stomach, however, then you will definitely want to check out The Automatic Hate.
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