First published by TheHorrorShow
Middle-aged, middle-class Dan (Greg Depetro) is videoing the family birthday party of his youngest son Alex (Sloane Morgan Siegel) in the smalltown home to which they have recently moved from New Jersey. As Dan’s camera gets in the visibly irritated faces of Alex (Sloane Morgan Siegel), Alex’s teen brother Tyler (Nicholas Clark) and sister Lindsay (Debbie Diesel), Dan’s dad-jokey commentary needles his children and viewers alike. Next Dan moves into the kitchen, where he has a quiet argument with his wife Melissa (Maggie Wagner; I Spit on Your Grave‘s Camille Keaton and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer‘s Lisa Temple both turned the rôle down). Amidst all these domestic tensions, we might be forgiven for expecting the ‘hate crime’ of the title to be an explosion of rebellious rage from a typical bourgeois Jewish-American family against its patriarch. Meanwhile, if you look closely at the birthday cake which Melissa has just baked, the curlicues in its side clearly trace a ‘666’ pattern. Something hateful, something criminal, something demonic is coming to this intimate, interior scene – and moments later, it has arrived.
One (Jody Barton), Two (Tim Moran) and Three (Ian Roberts) are local Neo-Nazi tweakers in combat gear and masks, out to rid their community of any Jewish newcomers while getting their twisted kicks along the way. After bursting in and rounding up the family, they proceed to terrorise, rape, mutilate and murder their captives, all the while subjecting them (and us) to moronic male braggadocio, incoherent anti-Semitic rants and confused expressions of sexual dominance and self-pity. “Men have no power anymore,” Three will absurdly complain as he takes from behind the bound and audibly agonised Melissa, before forcing Tyler at gunpoint to do the same (to his own mother). The intruders will also rail against the way the “fucking Kike wants to dilute the Aryan gene pool”, yet they can barely contain their own lust for underage Lindsay. The attempts by One, as he rapes Lindsay in the bathroom, to persuade her and himself that he is really committing a gentlemanly act of affection makes for particularly difficult viewing – although nothing here is easy. The film shows these three men’s mindset only to expose its ugliness and hypocrisy, its contradictions and deluded idiocy. They might invade the house and take over the camera, but the film is never on their side or making any sort of case for them – on the contrary their footage, once found, will prove crucial evidence in their ultimate criminal conviction.
“We’re making a fucking porno! We’re making a fucking porno! I love this!” shouts Three as he sees Dan’s dropped camcorder now in Two’s hands – and sure enough, Hate Crime represents a queasy nexus of family video and found footage, home invasion and torture porn. The whole film purports to have been shot, shakicam-style, by its perpetrators and victims – and it ends with po-faced text that wraps up the survivors’ (entirely invented) after-stories, while also offering real statistics on hate crime. This blurring of fact and fiction – with a story that is intended simultaneously to offer a representative truth and to entertain fans of certain horror subgenres – makes Hate Crime the most uncomfortable kind of exploitation cinema, drawing crass genre thrills from real, deadly serious issues.
As only James Cullen Bressack’s second feature (after 2011’s My Pure Joy), Hate Crime was a brutally crude calling card made on a minuscule budget – and it evidently left its mark, as he has has since gone on to make a host of films (To Jennifer; 13/13/13; Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys; Pernicious; The Condo; White Crack Bastard). Working as writer, director, editor, PR and producer on Hate Crime, Bressack has put together a traumatising film whose currency is less fine-tuned crafting and nuanced performance than a relentless cavalcade of depravity. One might try to make earnest claims about the importance of this film’s anti-hate message, but the truth is that anyone who is not a fan of shocking cinema is likely to be put off watching very quickly indeed. If the fair warning given by the film’s title is not enough to send sensitive viewers off seeking their pleasures elsewhere, it will be mere minutes before they know exactly what sort of film they are watching. The unspeakable happens from very early on here, and then keeps on happening with bludgeoning regularity.
The BBFC, for one, was unimpressed with what they saw when Hate Crime was submitted for video release. The classification body effectively banned the film in the UK, stating, “the unremitting manner in which Hate Crime focuses on physical and sexual abuse, aggravated by racist invective, means that to issue a classification to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, would risk potential harm, and would be unacceptable to broad public opinion.”
For what it is worth, whether motivated by budgetary limitations or genuine self-restraint, in fact Cressack is rarely if ever graphic in his portrayal of the trio’s assaults, and contrives in one way or another to block all the most transgressively vile acts from the camera’s view. Rather this is a film of constant, explicit threat and horrific consequence, leaving viewers themselves feeling assaulted by the constant barrage of thuggery, and convinced that they have seen far more than is ever actually shown on screen. Whether those of us who watch to the end emerge in any way enlightened or elevated is another question, but such lofty ideals do not have to be cinema’s (let alone horror’s) ends. Certainly Hate Crime never presents the racists’ deeds in anything but the most negative of lights, and to that extent it might reasonably be regarded as a moral film.
Yet even if Hate Crime finds an audience which is receptive to all the shock and torment, this repetitive series of fascistic taunts and visceral outrages becomes, in the absence of decent characterisation and an interesting story to hold everything together, surprisingly unengaging. It turns out that degradation, in and of itself, is not enough to hold the interest, even for a mere 73-minute running time, and after a while, even a family massacre is dull. Perhaps that says something about the banality of evil – but to appreciate this point, you first have to want to keep watching. Many, whether through repugnance or just plain boredom, simply will not want to see this film through to its bitter end, and will wish that Dan had stopped filming right at the start, as his children had requested.