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In 'Automatic Hate,' the ties that bind are bitter and spiteful

In 'Automatic Hate,' the ties that bind are bitter and spiteful
Deborah Ann Woll plays Cassie and Joseph Cross plays Davis Green in a scene from the movie "The Automatic Hate." (Quyen Tran/Film Movement)

The dysfunction runs deep in Justin Lerner's "The Automatic Hate," a compelling bit of family drama that packs a corrosive punch.

When a spirited young woman named Alexis (Adelaide Clemens) shows up unannounced at the home of Davis Green (a sympathetic Joseph Cross) claiming to be his first cousin, the soft-spoken sous chef is initially dubious, since his academic dad (Richard Schiff) had always maintained he was an only child.

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Nevertheless intrigued at the prospect of meeting the family he never knew existed, Davis drives to upstate New York, where he becomes captivated with the earthy Alexis and her sisters.

He's given a decidedly less enthusiastic welcome by his embittered Uncle Josh (a prudently cast Ricky Jay), who has been ostracized by his brother for reasons that, for the sake of dramatic structure, dare not speak their names until later in the film.

In the interim, Lerner and co-scriptwriter Katharine O'Brien maintain a sturdy grip on the emotional impetus behind those skillfully inhabited characters, gradually cracking open the door on that skeleton-filled closet until all hell eventually breaks loose around the dinner table.

While some may deem the resulting histrionics a little overheated — Lerner sees the film as the second part of a trilogy concerning taboo/unorthodox relationships — most others will find it all comfortingly cathartic where their own messy families are concerned.

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"The Automatic Hate."

Rating: No rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica.

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