I have never seen a movie like Justin Lerner’s The Automatic Hate. It begins very benignly, introducing us to ordinary people who have ordinary issues.
Davis (played by Joseph Cross), a twenty something chef living in Boston, who dropped out of Yale to pursue his dream, which did not make his Yale psychology professor father very happy (His father is played by the brilliant Richard Schiff- slayed it as usual). Davis lives with his ballerina girlfriend Cassie (Deborah Ann Woll), who is quite moody and needy when we first see her, crying and stomping around their Boston apartment. Davis decides to go down to the bar to meet friends without her, and this is where he meets Alexis (Adelaide Clemens), which is the beginning of the end of life as he knows it, and that is NOT an exaggeration.
Alexis is his long lost, never-knew-he-had-one cousin, who came looking for him from upstate New York. Turns out, Davis’ father has an older brother that he never told his son about. Davis tries to ask his father about it but gets immediately shut down, so he decides to go talk with his grandfather about it, who is frail and lives in a nursing home. Davis had found a painting of the two boys as children in the basement of his parents’ house, which he shows to his grandfather, who tells Davis “yes that is Joshua”. When Davis asks him to tell him more about Uncle Joshua, the grandfather literally goes batshit crazy, trembling, yelling “WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT JOSHUA!” He falls so far off the deep end the nursing home staff has to come in and sedate him, and now Davis is completely freaked out. He decides to go in search of this part of his family that no one is supposed to talk about.
Davis meets two more cousins, his aunt, and finally his Uncle, who, despite being told Davis is a friend of Alexis’, knows exactly who Davis is and also does not want to talk about the “unresolvable” issue that has kept him away from his own brother. Alexis and Davis are strangely drawn to each other, and not a little because Alexis is a complex and slightly insane character. Adelaide Clemens wears this character like a second skin- she is hands down the best actor in this film. She is a master at minor facial expressions, sometimes changing from sad, to perplexed to rapturous then back to sad, then hopeful, all in a 60 second timespan. She also does not know why her father and his brother don’t speak, but desperately wants a connection to this family she has never known, and especially to Davis. The two of them discover a man-cave type shed of her father’s, where they find a reel to reel projector, loaded with some home movies of the brothers and a few other people they’ve never seen before. This scene and a few others were a tad too predictable (Look! A projector already set up and plugged in! Lets watch it!), but nevertheless necessary to begin to explain what shattered this family so many years ago.
Saying any more about the plot developments would unnecessarily spoil the film. Suffice it to say, this was one of the most shocking, quiet, tense and suspenseful movies I have ever seen. I have never been more affected by sound-or the lack of it-while watching a film. The actors in this movie seem to have had microphones in their noses-that’s how much the viewer is able to hear every tremulous breath, every phonated syllable of every word of dialogue. Instead of being irritating or distracting, it lent an intimate feel to this complicated and weighty film. The sound design by Jeffrey Alan Jones is Oscar-worthy. (Incidentally, he also worked on another Film Club movie, Cooties—holla! One of my all time faves). The choice of sound, noises, and music in this film was simple, but was so very complex at the same time. Sound—again or the lack thereof—conveyed so much tension, especially at the climactic “dinner scene” that I cannot EVEN describe, again for fear of spoiling the film, and also because you should go see this film to feel the tension conveyed, that literally felt like the edge of exploding.
This was an uneven and, at times, too predictable film, but it was also compelling, chilling, and heavy. I highly recommend watching it—although maybe not with your estranged, long lost brother…