Movies · Reviews

Sundance Review: Lovers of Hate

By  · Published on February 1st, 2010

Deeply felt, operatic emotions lie at the heart of Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate. That they’re disguised beneath the exterior of a low-fi indie picture makes for an experience that’s strange, unsettling and wholly unpredictable. Few comparable dramas boast such an offbeat, creepy edge. While largely sticking with one location Poyser lends the central triangular relationship sinister, biblical overtones, producing a three character movie that inspires a mix of sympathy and revulsion for everyone involved.

Rudy (Chris Doubek) has never been the go-getter sort, but even by his diminished standards his life’s falling apart. Wife Diana (Heather Kafka) has kicked him out and he’s been reduced to living in his car, stealing hose water to bathe. Things get worse when his highly successful children’s author brother Paul (Alex Karpovsky) enters the picture and acts on his own longstanding feelings for Diana. The picture culminates with an extended, virtuoso set piece at the lavish Park City home to which Paul brings Diana for a romantic weekend, little knowing that Rudy’s already there.

Paul and Diana indulge in their getaway with the enthusiasm of a young couple in the throes of passion. They make love on the couch, banter romantically, snap nude photos and speak of dinner plans. Yet Rudy remains a presence throughout, bearing psychological weight on them as he materializes literally for us. The lingering fact of the severity of their betrayal lends their most innocuous interactions a sinister, sickening quality, exuding the fascination of a corrupt enterprise in motion. Karpovsky masters the slick demeanor of a huckster, wooing Diana with his polished banter and all-around sense of togetherness, while his eyes reveal a cold, calculating figure. Kafka inspires more empathy; while Paul is confident in their activities her awkward, hesitant demeanor reveals a keen sense of her poor conduct and personal torment over it.

As the viewer’s doppelganger, Rudy, initially paralyzed by disbelief, spends the opening segment of the Park City sequence fixing his gaze on the couple during their intimate moments and scampering out of view. Eventually, voyeurism turns to action as he begins to exert his influence on the proceedings. He plays God, wreaking havoc on their plans first with “subtle” hints (leaving a toilet full) and then by acting out his anger with far more aggression. In true Meta fashion, he begins to direct the story himself, manipulating both characters with harrowing intensity, even as his motivations are clear. Like Paul and Diana, he generates a mixed response. Pity for his unfortunate fate combines with repulsion at his thoroughly disheveled appearance and unease because of his gradual succumbing to some destructive impulses.

In the end, Diana states, quite rightly, that it’s always been about the brothers. Lovers of Hate is less the story of a dysfunctional, forbidden romance than a dramatization of brotherly conflict writ large, the culmination of a lifetime of rivalry and distrust. As the quirky, slapstick façade of Rudy playing inspired pranks on the couple melds away what’s left is the dark story of bruised feelings, deeply rooted damage and the worst sort of revenge: that in which no one wins.