Review/Interview: Dissecting Director Justin Lerner And His Five-Star Film ‘The Automatic Hate’


With even the indie scene becoming an area of story familiarity, it’s getting harder and harder to find films with originality.  With many tall tales having already been told and big studios continuing to eclipse the movie landscape with film fluff, a new and novel idea is hard to come by these days.  That’s why it’s all the sweeter when a five-star flick like the new drama “The Automatic Hate” (out March 11 in LA and in national release March 18) comes on the scene, providing a much needed cinematic cleansing for the true movie geek.  A fantastic picture dealing with everything from family secrets to taboo trysts, “The Automatic Hate” is the brainchild of Director and Co-Writer Justin Lerner (the genius behind the flick “Girlfriend”) and it’s an experience film fans will not likely forget.  We’re celebrating its upcoming release with not only a full-marks film review (yes, it deserves it!), but also some added insight via a one-on-one chat with Lerner himself who goes into more detail for fans like us who need extra info.  (Aka you might want to read it after you’ve seen the film!)  Again, so proud to acknowledge amazing achievements in moviemaking (we give credit where credit is due!) – read on!




   Title: “The Automatic Hate”

   Stars: 5

   Genre: Drama

   Cast: Joseph Cross, Adelaide Clemens, Ricky Jay

   Director: Justin Lerner

   Running Time: 97 Minutes

   Release Company: Film Movement



There are some films that benefit from going in cold.  Meaning watching a film with no preconceived notions or even a beat on the wares within can sometimes be a cinematic blessing in disguise.  “The Automatic Hate” is one such movie.  An all-consuming story in every sense of the word, it’s a powerful, passionate, shocking and sinful tale of family turbulence that firmly stays with you.

One night Davis Green meets a strange yet sincere girl named Alexis.  He’s never met or heard of her before, but she claims to know him.  Seems she thinks she’s a long lost family member whom Davis doesn’t know about.  At first, Davis is skeptical, even going to members of his own family to verify the story.  But when he realizes that there may be truth to the tale he decides to investigate – and it changes everything.

THAT is as much as I’m divulging about “The Automatic Hate.”  Many other reviews – and even the films’ press kit for that matter – will give much more info, but I firmly believe that the less revealed here the better.  The layered and well-woven story by co-writers Justin Lerner and Katharine O’Brien is an integral part of what makes the film so captivating and learning the facts at the films’ methodic pace is the only way to experience “The Automatic Hate.”  Of course, it helps that Lerner also directs with the skill of a master craftsman making sure the tension felt throughout is ever-present and right on the surface.  But the true praise that equals the sensational story must go to the actors involved with everyone bringing their dramatic A-game.  From “The West Wing” alum Richard Schiff and David Mamet regular Ricky Jay as estranged brothers to a standout turn by the sensational Adelaide Clemens as a gal looking for love and truth, the performances in the film have not one false note – impressive and exciting to watch from start to finish.

In a movie world filled with clichés, typical film tropes and painful plots the audience can see coming from a mile away, it’s nice to be surprised once in a while.  “The Automatic Hate” isn’t afraid to brilliantly and thoughtfully go to places undiscovered and out of that uniquely unbridled look at everyday life comes a five-star film that deservedly joins the ranks of cinema elite – welcome to the club.  


Saw the film, will never be the same again and need to know more?  (WATCH THE FILM FIRST SPOIL SPORTS!)  We got you covered – here’s Director/Co-Writer…




I have to know where did the ideas – especially the more taboo ones – in “The Automatic Hate” come from?

Justin Lerner: It would probably start with my relationship with my writing partner Katharine O’Brien who I wrote this with.  We interned together at The Weinstein Company and we started watching a lot of movies together in acquisitions and we just became really close.  I was working on my first feature “Girlfriend” which was about another taboo relationship between a young man with Down syndrome and a single mother and it’s something I’ve been gravitating towards in all my work.  Forbidden relationships – forbidden love.  Those things you don’t typically see on-screen.  So the opportunity arose to have a relationship between two cousins when Katharine and I started to build this family mystery – this mystery between two sides of a family that has distanced themselves from each other.  After “Girlfriend” I wanted to push the envelope a little further with “The Automatic Hate.”  But I’m looking for each film I do to push the audience into a level of discomfort where they wake up a little bit.  Not to shock – just to get them to pay attention.

I was having trouble writing the review simply because I don’t want to give away any of the films wonderful twists and turns – how are you describing it to people?

JL: The best way I describe it to people is that it’s a mystery film.  But the mystery is within one family where the children of two brothers who haven’t spoken in thirty years realize that they are cousins and try to uncover the thing that caused the rift in the family.  It’s really about uncovering who you are by learning about your past and this strange circle that they seem to be caught in.


There’s a thick and ever-present sense of tension and impending doom looming over the film like a complex emotional cloud – was this a conscious choice?

JL: Yeah.  I think we’re always more interested in watching something if you can feel the threat or the presence of something just around the corner.  And obviously there’s this terrible secret looming over their family that neither cousin is conscious of, or aware of, and I think that’s just good drama.  I look at the film as the way that Hitchcock would handle suspense – you’re going to give the audience enough information to know that a bomb is going to go off.  You don’t know when the bomb is going to go off, but you know it’s going to go off.  I think towards the end my bomb under the table is a lesson because we slowly realize this is not going to end well.  And Davis has gotten himself into this situation mostly out of curiosity, maybe out of anger, but also out of wanting to explore what this possible new life is for him – all things that are very human.

I adore just how earnest Adelaide Clemens performance was – what did she bring to the role vs. what was on the page?

JL: She brought everything but the words!  (Laughs)  Her audition tape, I paused it, I looked over at Katharine O’Brien and she was crying.  I thought she just invented a character using our dialogue.  She came up with this idea of this spoiled, very romantic, sheltered, beautiful tomboy who was raised by wolves.  Raised by wolves being a metaphor – she doesn’t know any better.  She’s never been told no in her entire life. The first time Adelaide and I spoke she said, ‘I totally get her.’  We knew that the character was a romantic and she was a little naïve, but Adelaide brought an ephemeral quality where you never knew at any point whether she was going to kiss you or stab you or make you laugh.  I think the character needed that in order for us to keep wanting to watch – sincerity.


You chose and got two amazing older actors “The West Wing” alum Richard Schiff and David Mamet regular Ricky Jay to play two very different brothers – can you talk a bit about how they got cast and what they were like to work with?

JL: It was really important for us to cast two people that we could believe as brothers – two old Jewish guys from the West Coast.  But the important thing about casting those two guys is that we wanted one to really look like someone who definitely follows the rules and pays his parking tickets and is aware of repercussions of actions.  And the other one is still an intellectual, still from the same family who is intelligent and witty but has by choice decided to live out in the woods where they are shielded from civilization. So the choice was two New York intellectuals – one just happens to live in the city and one in the country.  So the intellectual mountain man I thought Ricky would respond to the role because he usually gets offered – and Ricky told me this later – gangsters and magicians and this is much different than anything he’s ever been offered.  First time I met with him I basically offered him the role.  I wrote to him a letter and I said ‘Ricky, we both went to the same University – Cornell.  My dad’s a Jewish guy from Brooklyn – you’re a Jewish guy from Brooklyn.  I wrote this role with you in mind and I don’t have a backup so if you say no I’m totally f@cked!”  He met with me and he was intrigued.  And once we got him we were like how can you not go for Richard Schiff to play his brother?  It cast itself after that – we got lucky.  And they were set favorites.  The days you had Ricky and Richard on-set the rest of the cast was enraptured by their wittiness – it was a good set vibe when they were around.

We must talk about two scenes – first off the shack.  What struck me was not only how passionate the scene was but how loving the act seems to be with simple gestures like real feeling kisses, hands interlocking and burying a face in someone’s chest.  Can you talk about how you staged that scene?

JL: Other than maybe the dinner sequence, that was the hardest scene for me to do. My cinematographer and I have worked together now for thirteen years and she’s one of my best friends in the world – her name is Quyen Tran.  One thing about her that is unrelated to her talent is that she’s a female cinematographer and she immediately is able to be invisible and put the female actors at ease in a scene.  We shot that very quickly and over the course of a couple of hours in a rain storm.  We were stuck in that shack and I couldn’t leave – I was hiding under a tool bench while it was all happening. But the staging of it was always we wanted it to be in real time.  We want to watch for as long as possible without cutting so we have more time to realize this is really happening in front of our eyes.  For me what was most important was I wanted to hear the breath and I wanted it to be sweaty and at that point, I could almost trap the audience in the shack with the characters and make them complicit in the act.


Second – the dinner scene.  Being that it is literally the climax of the film how much pressure was there on you to get it right?

JL: A tremendous amount because that’s the only scene in which every cast member is there.  But it was meticulously planned, storyboarded, choreographed and when you have all the actors there in the same room one benefit you get is every actor wants to be their best for the other actors.  When you have Ricky Jay, Richard Schiff, Adelaide Clemens, Deborah Ann Woll, Yvonne and Vanessa Zima and Joseph Cross all in one room, not one actor wants to give you anything but their best.  Each person gave me more than I thought they were going to be able to give me.  But it was ambitious – that whole sequence was shot over the course of one week in one small room.  I knew the film would be made or broken by that scene.  

I hate to repeat a cliché, but your film lingered on me long after it ended.  I strangely even found myself at times almost wanting Davis and Alexis to end up together.  What are your thoughts beyond the film’s actual end – what’s your take on their love affair? 

JL: I think that they are those people that long after they’re gone we’re still thinking about and I think it stems from the beginning of the movie where Davis wants to know the truth.  He wants to know who Alexis is and what the secret was and in finding out the secret that his dad and uncle were keeping he almost inherited his own secret.  Its almost like secrets got passed down – he has a secret from his girlfriend and he has a secret from everyone else.  And her lingering in the background of his thoughts where he almost hears her as he’s going to sleep at night, for me it’s a way to explore the idea that some desires we have will never go away and it’s human to have them.  And while we can be fully committed and into something with somebody there are always going to be those people that you’ll be thinking about till the day you die.

So what’s next for you?

JL: I’m in the process of finishing writing a script that actually is going to be going soon. Basically it’s the third part in an informal trilogy of films about taboo or forbidden relationships and this one couldn’t be more different than “Girlfriend” and “The Automatic Hate.”  So I’m working on that now and it’s been optioned by a company and it’s going to be going into final re-writes on the script with the producers on it – hoping to get it going this year.




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