Having already seen (and not yet reviewed) MY PURE JOY, I've found myself in the awkward position of working backwards when it comes to James Cullen Bressack's filmography. At only 20 years old and having already formed his own production company: PSYKIK JUNKY PICTURES, Bressack has found himself on the receiving end of a good bit of praise recently. Being that I'm an old fart and nearly 20 years his senior, I tend to look at this praise through the cracked lenses of a senior citizen about a week away from full blown dementia. I'm skeptical, confused, and more than a little bit jaded after reading rave review after rave review for the a fore mentioned MY PURE JOY. Who knows: some day I may catch up on my work load and actually write up that one as well. For now, the simple fact remains that I truly didn't see what all the fuss was about. Although a very nice fellow, I didn't think it was the work of a savant. I found it to be the work of a 17 or 18 year old kid who grabbed some friends, a camera, and had the gumption to make a "movie." It felt to me (dialogue, exposition, narrative) not wise beyond a teen's years, but about right in line with how those young whipper-snappers would "talk the talk and walk the walk." So, after being given a secure online link to watch his latest film, I read the reviews of those who had already seen it and rolled my eyes again as the compliments oozed forth like milky white pus from carefully lanced boils. This was all getting a bit ridiculous. I began to suspect that maybe because dude was young, hip, and genuinely nice as fuck; he was getting some preferential treatment here. So, there I was, ready to step into the director's next feature hoping for something; but quite honestly just expecting more of the same lingo and swagger that someone of my age didn't particularly care for or relate to. I guess this is how my parents felt when I discovered BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD.
HATE CRIME's official synopsis reads like this: "A family is held hostage by sadistic home intruders." It seems the junkies over at psychic pictures want to keep this one shrouded in a bit of mystery. That's all fine and dandy until you go asking people to write things about your movie. How many families have we seen held hostage by sadistic home intruders? We've probably also seen just as many cinematic depictions of sadistic families holding home intruders hostage. Although that synopsis is apt, it also does the film a great disservice. You're not going to build any curiosity or anticipation for your movie with one generic sentence describing a sub-genre that's been done (sometimes very well, sometimes very poorly) over and over already. So let's go deeper, shall we? HATE CRIME opens with a family birthday party. Mommy, Daddy, Big Sister, Medium Brother, and Little Brother (the birthday boy) are getting ready to celebrate in their newly "moved into" home. Dad's got the video camera trained on the kids, poking fun at (and annoying) them in a way only a totally lame parent can. It's all kind of par for the course until the group has their festivities interrupted by three masked men ready to raise a whole shit ton of hell. The situation immediately goes from bad to worse as the lunatics seize control of dad's camera and begin documenting what turns (very quickly) into a night of unimaginable terror.
Let's get one thing out of the way: HATE CRIME is a very different animal than MY PURE JOY. Where that film felt (as mentioned before) like a kid making a horror movie, this one is much darker and more mature. In that sense, I felt a tremendous leap forward from Bressack. It's brutally serious and devoid of any and all quirk, annoying teenager-ish dialogue, or unintentional humor. The three intruders are "bat shit crazy," and even though VERY stereotypical, come off as quite menacing throughout. The spotlight here, however, belongs to Debbie Diesel as (Big Sister) Lindsay. I'll say this right now though: if that's your given name it's pretty darn cool. If you're just using it for "show biz:" it's a total porn name, change it. The girl brings great humanity to not just her role, but the film as a whole. For that she should be commended. As for the now 20 year old director (who was probably 19 while working on this one) he makes a good bit of contact, but swings and misses a lot as well. Since the film is of the found footage "variety," it's a VERY slippery slope for the filmmaker to navigate. When this "style" is not done well (and ultimately gets in the way of the story) it comes off as a "gimmick" and fails miserably. While trying to immerse your audience in a world that you want them to believe is not just real, but REALLY real, you need to be super duper mega careful with found footage. Considering all this (and at only 73 minutes long) HATE CRIME somehow managed to drag for me. It felt monotonous. It felt staged. There were far too many instances where I just couldn't accept the fact that the camera would still be rolling. I had been "taken out of the film." I am of the belief that you can still capture violence and have it be uber-disturbing without feeling the need to put the camera into your antagonist's hands; and even though there are some really disgraceful things done to these poor people, it rarely disturbs. In the end, what Bressack is trying to say with this film is admirable. However, his decision to go first person-hand held was not a good one. If he had stepped back, abandoned the "gimmick," grabbed the fucking camera, and filmed it; this could have been something pretty special. This could have been THAT FILM. Right now HATE CRIME is a movie that a lot of people are probably going to like quite a bit. In the end, it might not be the quantum leap I'd hoped for, but it certainly showed me that Bressack is a serious filmmaker who's willing (and able) to approach (and express) truly dark material.
Director: James Cullen Bressack
Starring: Debbie Diesel and Ian Roberts