The Hater bites off more than it can chew in attempting to tell one story that encompasses so many of the societal ills in Poland.
The very first review I wrote for Loud & Clear, months ago, was of director Jan Komasa’s previous film, Corpus Christi. And much of what I wrote about Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz remains true today with their new release The Hater – they are laser-focused on telling stories, there allegorical, here more literal, about the moral decay that has seen modern Poland descend into a some reprehensible and immoral positions. Poland stands out, along with the United States and Brazil, as a country that has seen its national discourse devolve into fascistic illiberalism predicated in large part on ethnic, race, gender, and sexual targeted polemics.
The Hater dives into the deep end of the pool, telling the story of a young man who professionally spreads misinformation and vitriol online as part of social media “marketing” company that is focused on negative takedown campaigns. The film opens with the titular hater Tomasz Giemza’s expulsion from law school. Tomasz, adequately but uninspiringly played by Maciej Musialowski, sits stoically as he is chastised for his plagiarism before smugly asking for his teacher’s autograph. He exudes the sort of pedantic air one expects of racist incel types.
Through an increasingly contrived series of incidents, young Tomasz manages to ingratiate himself with, among others, a group of Polish white nationalists, a wealthy family who gives him access to societal elites, and the potential mayor of Warsaw who just so happens to be Tomasz’s opposition research target. While Corpus Christi’s message felt clear throughout, here Komasa and Pacewicz simply throw too much material at the audience in a somewhat laborious 136 minute run time. They seem intent on making sure that all societal ills are addressed in just one film. Everyone, from hypocritical politicians to the sort of “I would have voted for Obama a third time!” liberal elites seen in Get Out to actual white nationalists, gets the skewer. Social media disinformation campaigns reside at the heart of the film, and that subject alone could have made for a substantial movie.
Perhaps the greatest problem is one of tone. Tomasz seems to occupy a role like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network; only, instead of creating the top social media platform, he is creating an entire universe of misinformation and discord. Komasa – much like with his fake priest character in Corpus Christi – seems unable to separate himself from an intrinsic fascination with a conman. And the con, here, is extensive and, in some ways, quite fun. The overwhelming preponderance of coincidences creates a whole bunch of spinning plate for Komasa to juggle in his character’s life. It is frankly pretty exciting. But that’s exactly the problem: Komasa has basically forced the viewer to enjoy this evil bastard’s ascent. It never once plays as his tragic decline into malfeasance either – he’s a bad guy from minute one.
The Hater is a frustrating film because Komasa’s keen directorial eye and substantial talent with actors remain eminently on display. The entire supporting cast is strong, here, with special note to Vanessa Aleksander, who plays the object of Tomasz’s incel affection. Aleksander manages to bring grace notes of humanity to what could be a fairly one-note part. Even when the film begins to drag, there are moments that keep shocking it awake, and the long con game itself remains compelling. I look forward to seeing what Komasa does in the future, despite this misfire.
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