James Cullen Bressack impressed me with his last film My Pure Joy, and with his latest Hate Crime, which will easily divide people, he’s proving that he’s got a great future in horror.
Hate Crime is one of those films that’s best not to know anything going in since I think even a trailer would spoil it, but I will say that it’s not a film to be enjoyed. I think if someone says they enjoyed it, it would cause some concern for their friends. Yup, it’s that kind of film that gets under your skin with some of the disturbing scenes, but remarkably, it’s not gratuitous. The violence in the film unfolds and feels natural. That might sound odd, but so many times we have those torture porns like Hostel that just felt a bit much, and Bressack seems to have felt the same way, and doesn’t go too overboard with it.
The film is certainly not perfect, but technically, it’s shockingly good. I had a feeling about this young filmmaker, and I’m glad that he’s proving to be rather talented. Plus he understands films in the horror genre which many indie filmmakers don’t, especially those in their early 20′s.. They just run out grab a camera and figure if they get gruesome enough, that’s all it takes. Not so.
Hate Crime uses the ‘found footage’ technique. Yes, until Chronicle came along I hated those too. Bressack shares the same hatred of the overused method, but he uses it correctly. The camera never breaks from that point of view which I really admired. You may also get surprised at some of the very long takes in the scenes. The edits are used perfectly, and many of you won’t even notice them. That’s how smooth they are. Another big praise is for the make-up department. Many times in indie horror, the make-up looks like make-up, but the focus on detail was superb! It’s these little things that can truly help a movie overcome some of the bigger obstacles in its way.
The film’s premise is pretty basic: A Jewish family is celebrating the youngest son’s birthday and is suddenly plunged into a fight for survival as a trio of anti-Semitics crash invade their home. It has the sound of The Strangers, but owes more to Wes Craven’s Last House On the Left mixed with August Underground. What I liked about it is that many times when we see a video clip on the news of a hate crime, it just looks senseless, and trying to fathom what drove a person to the brutality is just beyond us. Bressack has allowed the three men who invade the families home (aptly names One, Two & Three) to unfold their aggressive nature. They are Aryan type men, but you know that they are using this as just an excuse to brutalize rape and torture people.
Many horror filmmakers overuse gore and gratuitous violence to hide the fact that there’s no story or plot, but with Hate Crime, it lets it unfold in a more natural way. People have a fine line that keeps them from becoming monsters, but put in the right situation, that monster can come out. These three use their hatred as an excuse to exact their brutality, and you can see it slowly build throughout the film. One of the terrorists states at the beginning that they’re only going so far, but that goes out the window once one of them begins taking things further giving the other two an excuse to do the same.
This violence will easily make you squirm and will probably have people walking out of the theater, but for the most part, the violence is real. Many of these acts are seen in entertaining action adventure movies that people will see in droves, but when the mirror is held up to us revealing the ugliness of violent acts, it’s harder to accept.
The film starts out with quite the bang, and that’s one of the issues I had with it since it never allows the audience to bond with any of the characters. With a film like this, you need to feel something for the victims, otherwise it’s just watching strangers getting tortured. A film like this is a tough balancing act which doesn’t always succeed, but you still keep watching to the end because it does hold you. Some scenes definitely feel like they drag out, but that’s one of the problems of starting a film out with such a fast pace. When it slows down, it feels like it’s losing steam, and getting it back is not an easy task.
Many times in these types of films, there’s a rape scene, and this one’s no different; but it’s a very disturbing one in the vein of Irreversible that audience members will be talking about as they leave the theater. I saw this with several of our writers last night, and this morning they came in talking about how they couldn’t sleep thinking about the film. For me, that’s what filmmaking is all about. Leaving an impression that can’t be easily forgotten once you walk out of the theater.
I was surprised that one of the intruders is Australian rugby player turned actor Ian Roberts who delivers a sometimes over the top performance, but he’s also the most memorable character in the film. Bressack gave him most of the free reign for improvisation, and sometimes it gets a little much, but again, you don’t forget his character. He spews more racial epithets in this film so all you sensitive people are warned. Having interviewed some members of hate groups, I was struck in how his character was actually so dead on. If you’ve never met a true racist, you’ll think this is just overacting, but trust me, there are many people out there who are like this.
One big complaint that will come out is the audio quality. The intruders are masked, so that causes a lot of muffling sometimes. We remember how the muffled Bane issue hit Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight Rises, well, this will be something that Bressack will certainly hear from audiences. It’s easy to say that you want the shitty sound quality to keep the ‘found footage’ thing real, but an audience will forgive a shitty picture with great sound, but never the opposite. For those that saw the original Bane footage months before Dark Knight opened in theaters, you know the audio was tweaked to be a better but more understandable muffled voice.
With the number of hate groups growing so quickly over the fast four years (In 2011, they topped over 1,000), Hate Crime reminds us that these mindless acts of violence based on fear and illogical hatred are occurring more and more. That’s what makes this one a tough sell. With things the way they are in the world, everyone wants an escape, but sometimes getting a dose of reality forced upon us can be a good thing. Again, it’s far from perfect, but there’s enough good qualities to the film to make it worthwhile to check out. It won’t be an easy watch, but life isn’t always going to be easy.
Best Movies Ever Rating: C+
James Cullen Bressack is proving himself to be quite the indie horror filmmaker, and Hate Crime has many good qualities going for it to outweigh the bad. I think with a few more films under his belt, Bressack will really hit his stride and really make a splash in this genre. He’s easily one to keep your eye on as he continues learning and honing his craft.