Bryan Poyser, Lovers of Hate, 2010, still from a color film in HD, 93 minutes. Paul and Diana (Alex Karpovsky and Heather Kafka).


IF YOU WANT to make people uncomfortable at your next family get-together, stream Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate (available on IFC Films on Demand until June 15). Poyser’s first feature skimmed slightly above the radar at this year’s Sundance and SXSW film festivals and went straight to VOD, which may be the best place to watch it. The sibling rivalry narrative is likely to get under the skin of even well-adjusted brothers—and some sisters and wives as well.

Disconcerting in both form and content, Lovers of Hate begins like a drab version of a Seth Rogen mismatched rom-com, then veers into stalker-horror before slacking off into . . . but no, I don’t want to entirely give away its apposite inconclusiveness. The film’s title derives from the novel on which older brother Rudy (Chris Doubek) has long claimed to be at work, although, like Jack Nicholson’s blocked author in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)—clearly on Poyser’s mind—he may not have gotten past the opening page.

Rudy is first glimpsed attempting furtively to hose the sweat off his droopy body at the local gas station. He’s been living in his car since his wife Diana (Heather Kafka) kicked him out. When younger brother Paul (Alex Karpovsky) arrives in town on a book tour and discovers the breakup, he puts the moves on Diana. Rudy confronts them, and his humiliation-fueled rage gives the movie a charge of negative energy that director and actor sustain almost to the end. But Rudy’s resentment of his facile, opportunistic sib predates Paul’s poaching of Diana. Although the children’s books that have made Paul the American near equivalent of J. K. Rowling bear the dedication “For Rudy,” Paul has never publicly acknowledged that they are based on narratives and characters that Rudy invented to entertain him when they were kids.

Rudy follows his brother to a sprawling, snow-covered Utah vacation house where Paul has gone—ostensibly to write, but actually to tryst with Diana. Skulking unseen behind half-closed doors, Rudy is mesmerized by the sight of his brother and his estranged wife fucking themselves blind: They fail to notice his presence for days. Since Paul and Rudy are both, each in his own way, total shits, it’s fitting that Rudy employs a toilet as his instrument of terror, his regressive maneuver recalling acts of aggression by and against various nuclear family members forced to live in intimate conditions with people they are supposed to love but in fact loathe. As in The Shining, the oversize digs only reinforce the sense of psychological claustrophobia.

The movie opens in Austin, home of SXSW, then repairs to Park City, where the ski lodge that the Austin contingent shared at the 2009 Sundance festival became the principal location. Production values are barely existent, but the camera placement and editing, particularly in relation to Rudy’s s/m voyeurism, are brilliant. Ditto the script and the performances. Doubek, Karpovsky, and Kafka should be commended for making their characters thoroughly unappealing while eschewing villainous flourishes. The horror in Lovers of Hate is all too familiar—or, as Freud would have termed it, Heimlich. It’s rare, however, to see it depicted with such disgusting specificity on the screen.

Amy Taubin

Lovers of Hate is available on IFC Films on Demand through June 15. For more details, click here.