Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Kid Kalifornia Productions and Writer/Director, John Law for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut film, “The Hatred”. The Hatred is an otherworldly horror film by way of a western, set to the backdrop of the Blackfoot Territory in the 1800’s. A young orphan (played by Zelda Adams) hell-bent on revenge against those who killed her family, conjures a recently executed soldier (played by Law himself) back from the dead to help carry out retribution. The film also stars Lulu Adams, Stephen O’Donnell, Thomas Burnham and Michael Hall.
Law’s sophomore screenplay feels like the supernatural version of “True Grit” along with being akin to the dreamlike state of a film like “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”. I give John credit for entering into this very specific sub-genre, recently inspired by the likes of “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brimstone”, two stunning works of cinema. Most of the cinematography in The Hatred is quite slick-looking and professional, which may come as a shock to some considering it appears that members of the cast also doubled as camera operators. The snow-covered landscape makes for some wonderful wide shots and there’s the gorgeous view of a small waterfall, probably my favorite shot in the film. Everything is nicely framed and Law’s decision to use only natural lighting (a technique displayed flawlessly in Alejandro Inarritu’s “The Revenant”) is ambitious as hell. Now, while The Hatred is no 130 million dollar DiCaprio film, the natural light is still really well conceived. The audio track is crisp and clear, notably without any ADR (or at least anything obvious). Not only did Law write, direct and act in the film, he also scored it. There’s a number of scenes with warping low-fi bass as well as an off kilter three note piano motif which creates some tension. The writing isn’t the most engaging but each of the lead performances are solid and it’s Zelda Adams that virtually carries the crown. Michael Hall’s special effects work is fairly basic but it works. Blood spray to complement a handful of on-screen kills in the speedy hour run time.
Being an independently made film from a first timer, and presumably a number of other newbies, The Hatred isn’t without its technical imperfections. The very opening shot sees a huge peak in audio as a soldier screams in agony, fortunately it was just that one minor hiccup in an otherwise nice sounding film. I wasn’t a huge fan of the mumbled philosophical rantings from our young orphan, and at times even the general narration gets a little heavy-handed. Law could have allowed some space momentarily for the film to breathe. There’s a brief section of shaky cam that’s a little rough around the edges in the beginning, showing soldiers retreating (just a personal preference issue though). I feel like John missed the opportunity to compose a conventional western score, which could have added another layer to the film. Westerns have long been known for their sweeping themes, instead the only real form of music we get here is a scattered piece of metal music within the first few minutes (it doesn’t exactly scream period authenticity). There was only the one flat reactionary performance, coming as one of the soldiers is having a knife wiggled around in him, his mannerisms felt forced. It’s never clearly explained how Vengeance rose either (the name of the deceased soldier). Was it a details that was just an afterthought, or did I miss something? Because I felt like some context was warranted in order to fully get behind the young girls cause. I found it difficult to engage the film due to the fact that it felt light on material, that and none of the characters have conventional names. Instead, they go by emotions, which is an original concept but not so easy to build an hour-long story around. There’s a lot of screen time spent showcasing establishing shots, or characters constantly in transit traipsing through heavy snow, it gets a bit tedious after a while.
The Hatred is an interesting concept that Law unfortunately doesn’t quite flesh out to its full potential. I like the blending of tones within the genres and Zelda’s all black look, which is clearly inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s a well shot film in a snowy but barren location. The natural light use is a wonderful accomplishment, the sounds are eerie and the performances are pretty good. Sadly most of the action occurs without suspense backing it, but this is a low-budget indie so I can forgive that somewhat. I had a few personal preference gripes and I think the film would have benefited from a more memorable score. A couple of moments fell flat and I wanted to know more about the young orphans abilities. The Hatred is a slow-burn if you’re that way inclined. But I’m not sure there was ever really enough meat on the bone to warrant a full length feature. None the less, this is a solid first effort. John Law, hey? It’s a bit like John Ford, isn’t it? Maybe he’s got a future in the wild west too, let’s hope so. You can watch the teaser trailer for The Hatred below! It’s now available on Amazon Prime.
My rating for “The Hatred” is 5.5/10