The Hater (2020) – drama/thriller – Jan Komasa – Poland – 135 minutes
Following the success of Corpus Christi, nominated for Best Foreign Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards, the duo composed by director Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz continue to surprise with Sala samobójców. Hejter (English title: The Hater), a deep character study of a disturbed individual, set amidst political turmoil and fuelled by the internet age
The Hater is a somewhat of a ground-breaking film, beginning with its release: it came out on demand just twelve days after its theatrical premiere, becoming the very first mainstream Polish production to do so. A few days after its release, cinemas and movie theatres were closed in Poland due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak, so the distributor decided to make the movie available on demand. Recently, on July 29th, The Hater became available on Netflix, which bought the distribution rights to the film following its win of the Best International Narrative Feature Award at Tribeca Film Festival. An award that praises a movie’s story and screenplay.
A perfect fit for Komasa’s filmography, The Hater is a tense and anxiety-inducing watch that works as a character study within the context of political instability in Poland – which is very similar to what’s currently going on in many European countries – and the increasing role that social media and fake news play in shaping the future of a nation.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – The Hater (2020)
The Hater – fictional story getting too real
The story follows Tomasz Giemza (Maciej Musiałowski), a law student who had just been kicked out of university over a plagiarism issue and who is obsessed with the progressive, upper-class Krasucki (mom, dad and two daughters). Tomasz is a professional liar: he uses his charm to manipulate people and his intelligence to stay on top of things even when situations look dire. Due to his “skill”, he lands a job at a PR company run by Beata Santorska (Agata Kulesza). What seemed like just another assignment turns out to be a quickly developing troll farm, where he excels in the business of spreading fake news and online hatred targeting famous personalities, internet celebrities and politicians. His magnum opus is the campaign in favour of and against Paweł Rudnicki (Maciej Stuhr): Tomasz plays as a double agent by befriending the liberal politician who runs for mayor of Warsaw, all the while inciting hate against him on social media with the ultimate goal to see his campaign fail. A double game that will lead to an awful and bloody outcome.
Whilst fictional, the story of The Hater closely relates to all-too-real current issues such as the role social media play in generating fake news and the increasingly stronger tensions between far-right policies and more liberal ideas. As Tomasz’s arc escalates, alongside the political climate in Poland, The Hater leads to a disturbing, gruesome and unapologetic third act. One might argue this escalation to be overdramatised for entertainment sake, but sometimes reality surpasses fiction: in fact, three weeks after the filming was completed, Paweł Adamowicz, city mayor of the Polish town Gdańsk and a liberal politician frequently targeted by online haters, was stabbed to death during a live broadcast charity event.
Cautionary tale and character study
The ability to immortalise the present in such vivid details is the marker of great writing. With The Hater, Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz were able to depict a dour and bleak reality where education, manipulation and strong will could change the life of a family (the Krasucki) as well as the destiny of a country through the misuse of social media platforms. This is something we have already witnessed with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, just to name an infamous example.
Such themes and stories are, however, in the background as The Hater fully works as a character study of Tomasz. He is an anti-hero, a sociopathic and a despicable human being. Yet, he’s truly relatable due to how strong-willed and resourceful he manages to be. The film does a phenomenal job at delivering this duality, mostly because the dialogue is spot on and the narrative as strong as it can be. It, also, helps that Maciej Musiałowski offers one of the very best performances I have witnessed in recent years: the collaboration between his subtle acting and wonderful writing truly elevates the story to another level.
No time to breathe
Despite being mostly dialogue-driven, The Hater is an extremely fast-paced and unnerving film, where the viewer likely feels uncomfortable at every new decision our protagonist/antagonist makes. This is due, partially, to the fantastic performances, which make you care – in a way or another – for every single character; part of it, however, is due to the claustrophobic camera-work and cinematography.
Aside from a couple of wide shots, the entirety of The Hater is filmed through close-ups and mediums, which lead to an uncomfortable and nauseating feel that both fit with the themes of the film and increases the tension. The score, also, complements such feeling beautifully, although during the first act the overreliance on pop music kind of defeats the bleakness of the story and comes off as cheesier than it should have been.
An imperfect great film
Speaking of flaws, The Hater features a few corny lines in certain parts of the movie that seem to come from your average Hollywood schlock rather than being part of a clever, well-made drama.
Again, during the first act the film relies on texts and messages appearing on the screen, as the characters communicate with each other. While this directorial choice isn’t an issue per se, it does distract from the realism – for reference, check out Trey Edward Shults’ Waves, where characters text with one another in the most realist way possible. Furthermore, this choice seems to be present only during the first act and, after 30 minutes, it completely disappears, creating a sense of incompleteness that I don’t think was intended.
Thoughtful, complex, fast-paced and extremely dour, The Hater is one of the best examples of recent Eastern European cinema: a market that’s providing great title upon great title lately. The film is constantly engaging and, despite its subtlety about politics and tasteful approach on social media criticism, it can work as a true eye-opener for some viewers.
In such a strange year, The Hater feels like a breath of fresh air: it is currently my favourite film of 2020 but, despite being on Netflix, it has only been rated by 5K people on IMDb. It deserves so much more attention and I hope this review will convince some of you to check it out.
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