‘Hate Crime’: A Review

by Ian on July 28, 2012

by Ian Shearer

I found myself on the advance screening list for Hate Crime by association. I know only a very select few people in the underground art community, but it would seem they are all the right people to know. And so last week I got a password protected link to see the film before it goes out to festivals, but only after swearing an oath of secrecy about the plot. I tell you this only to explain why I offer only the sketchiest of plot-related information in this review.

I like to see a film with no prior knowledge. It lends the experience a feeling of purity and removes the influence of hype and marketing. Having said that, there is always the danger of the sort of disappointment that a trailer so effectively warns against. This, unfortunately, was the case with Hate Crime.

I have no problem with violence in the cinema. I sometimes find it exploitative, but not objectionable on a personal level, and I am certainly not a fan of censorship. So even though I recognise that the content of Hate Crime will be controversial, I will not accuse James Bressack of simply courting said controversy. I don’t think the violence in the film is just to cause a stir, but I will admit that I still don’t ‘get it’. Since the film is so thin on plot I can only understand it in the context of a study of human hatred and brutality, which I admit isn’t quite my cup of tea, but isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that if it is such a study, it is a rather heavy-handed and preachy one.

The ultimate flaw in the film is the complete absence of characterisation. That is not to criticise the acting, which is probably the film’s greatest strength. The performances are, for the most part, very good; the victims as convincingly hysterical as their antagonists’ sadism is menacing. What the characters lack is, well, character, which is a fault of the writer rather than of the actor. Maybe anonymity was the point but if so it was misjudged, since audience empathy is one of the fundamentals of film making. We can no more empathise with a character we know nothing about than we can with a photograph of the victim of a massacre, like the recent one in Colorado. News sources know this as well as anyone, which is why they are so quick to interview friends and relatives of the victims. We naturally seek to identify with the characters in any story, factual or fictional, but we are denied this impulse in Hate Crime and the film suffers for it.

The film takes the form of ‘found footage’, a stylistic choice that, once again, eludes me. The film’s production value is one of its strengths and could have been further enhanced by a more classical style with careful framing and blocking. What it gains in gritty realism, it loses in production quality and the choppy home-video style seems like an unnecessary contrivance rather than a considered visual enhancement.

Not to be entirely negative, I should point out that the energy of the film is laudable. Bressack appears to have given the actors a level of freedom to improvise and react that is uncommon, especially on small scale independent productions. As with any experimental art though, there is the danger of a landing without even the safety net of conventionality to break the fall. I am glad there are film makers like Bressack out there – pushing boundaries and offering an alternative to the commonplace. Unfortunately, for its uncompromising nature, I found it a rather boring, ineffectual film with little to offer other than some unusually shocking on-screen brutality.

In the interest of fairness and diplomacy, you can read Richard Wink’s (much more favourable) review of Hate Crime over at The International Syndicate of Cult Film Critics.

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