SXSW Review: Lovers of Hate

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Lovers of Hate

What's the best way to say "creepy and at times bordering on the distasteful ... but in a good way"? When you figure it out, let me know so I can describe Lovers of Hate, the latest film from Austin filmmaker Bryan Poyser, which premiered at Sundance this year before screening at SXSW and on IFC Video on Demand (where it's now available to watch). Normally I'm not fond of movies with unlikeable characters doing things that make me wrinkle my nose in distaste, but somehow Poyser and his excellent cast and crew pull it off in an arresting manner.

Rudy (Chris Doubek) is the saddest sack blowing around Austin -- his wife kicked him out and he has nowhere to live except his car, and his job prospects are dwindling by the moment. All he wants is a shower, and his wife Diana (Heather Kafka) back. In the middle of this, his brother Paul (Alex Karpovsky) shows up, a famous children's author in a Harry Potter sort of way. Paul's books are based on stories Rudy used to tell him when they were growing up, and Rudy hasn't finished his own magnum opus (with the same title as the film), so he's nursing a helluva grudge. He convinces his wife to pretend they're still a couple while they have dinner with Paul, but the shaky premise simply can't hold up. Rudy's also suspicious of his brother Paul having designs on Diana. What he wants is for Paul and himself to travel to a secluded house where Paul's been staying in Park City, so they can both finish their writing, but somehow nothing turns out quite as planned.

If Rudy sounds horrible from the above description, that barely scratches the surface. He's abrasive and rude and it's easy to understand why Diana has left him, and why his brother rarely visits. But Chris Doubek manages to get away with it and keep the audience on his side ... well, mostly. Alex Karpovsky (Poyser played his roommate in Beeswax) does a great job with a tricky role as Rudy's brother. I was also pleased that Diana, as played by Heather Kafka, is written and acted with complexity beyond what could have been the oft-seen stereotype of The Wife.

Poyser's script manages to inject just enough humor to keep us from hating these characters and wanting to throw things at them, without undercutting the seriousness behind the relationships in this film. I especially enjoyed an early sequence where Rudy is trying to find a way to take a shower, and how it plays out -- it's funny and we get great insight into his character. The Park City house is cleverly used in the second half of the film.

Lovers of Hate is more finished and polished and has better production values than Poyser's first feature, Dear Pillow, which many Austin film lovers associate with him. Both movies have a strong sense of voyeurism -- we are watching people spy on other people, and do what would be considered socially if not ethically wrong. Are these the things we secretly wish we could do ourselves ... or that we do but don't tell anyone? Perhaps that's why this film is so fascinating, likeable characters or not.

Austin connections: The first part of the film was shot in Austin and you can see landmarks like the old Genie Car Wash sign (before they got "updated" last year) and BookPeople. Most of the cast and crew are/were from Austin, like director of photography David Lowery (the filmmaker behind SXSW 2009 selection St. Nick and two of this year's SXSW bumpers). The Park City house is owned by an Austinite, as well.