You know, after Ex Machina, I wasn’t expecting to see another film with uncomfortable sexual tension so soon. Yep, after tension between a man and a robot, The Automatic Hate brought tension between cousins. That not to say it was bad though; in fact the implication of incest was presented as a consequence of suppression and denial of family issues.
I’ll explain. The Automatic Hate follows Davis (Joseph Cross) as he meets a cousin (Adelaide Clemens) he never knew about, and gradually uncovers a long buried family secret that drove his father (Richard Schiff) and uncle (Ricky Jay) apart. Much of the tension comes from Davis interactions with his with his more freewheeling and abrasive cousin, and his attempts to both uncover the family secret while maintaining his anonymity in front of his uncle. Though I was a bit disappointed when the film discards this anonymity earlier on, as it led to some fun awkward comedic exchanges, it did at least help to bring the two sides of the family together. A lot of my enjoyment came from a supremely uncomfortable dinner party, wherein the long simmering spite of the brothers threatens to boil over while Davis tries to maintain sanity.
However, these enjoyable scenes were a bit tainted by something that happens about midway through the film. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say it was shocking event. Now, I didn’t have a problem with it because of its shock value, it’s just that the placement of it in the narrative made it feel unearned and contrived. Maybe if the script had held off a little longer and let it build, I would have felt better, but as it stands, it just felt like an attempt to create more tension when there was plenty already. Also (again without giving anything away) it reduced what started off as a complicated character to only one role in the story.
I also feel I have to comment on the ending. The final act goes on way too long. There were several moments that would have felt like natural endings – after a funeral; after a conversation in a car; after a character attempts to get their life back in order – but it just keeps. And the sequence the film does end on feels forced and actually seems to erase some of the development a character went through.
So, The Automatic Hate is by no means bad, and even with a few hiccups in the narrative, it has palpable tension that really drives the story and characters, and makes it worth watching.