Released: 24th September
Seen: 8th September (Advance copy provided by TriCoast)
In 2009, America extended its hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. This extension was called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for two victims of notable hate crimes of the 90s that lead to a decade long conversation surrounding hate crimes. This was a conversation that I kind of hoped we wouldn’t need to have anymore, but since there’s been a spike in hate crimes in America since 2017 (I wonder what major event happened that might have led to that?) we apparently need to continue the discussion. The movie Hate Crime wants to tackle a very specific portion of this discussion, one that I’m honestly stunned hasn’t been talked about in more films… just what effect does the aftermath of a hate crime have on the families left behind?
Hate Crime picks up years after a young Raymond Brown (Jordan Salloum) has seemingly beaten a gay man, Kevin Demarco (Chasen Joseph Schneider) to death merely for being gay, which means he is going to get the death penalty under the hate crime laws. As might be expected, his parents are not handling it well. His father Tom (Kevin Bernhardt) has seemingly shut himself off from the world and become a much quieter sullen man, which has not helped his marriage to Ginny (Amy Redford). Ginny is having problems of her own, having to come to terms with what her son did while also having to deal with a large amount of harassing phone calls and her husband becoming more withdrawn as the hour of their son’s execution grows nearer. Neither of them can bring themselves to go to see his final moments, but the parents of the man he murdered certainly can. John Demarco (John Schneider) and Marie Demarco (Laura Cayouette) have gone to the prison in hopes of getting some closure around their son’s death before they are no longer able to confront the man who killed him.
Considering how heavy the subject matter is, this film handles it surprisingly well. They only give you just enough details so you can know why we’re here, but they don’t dwell on it. We’re mostly here for the story of the parents, in particular, the Brown family. We spend most of the runtime with them, watching as they slowly unravel and try and figure out what they did wrong to make their son do such an awful thing. It tackles the tougher topic of what could cause someone to act out and kill someone just for being gay. Was it something he did on his own, did he pick up on something unspoken from the father, was it something other than just general homophobia?
Where I have a mild issue with this film is that it’s kind of tilted towards focussing on the parents of the killer, Raymond. The Brown Family gets the majority of the runtime and the actual emotional plotline. Meanwhile, the Demarco family, the actual victims, kind of only pop up for a few small scenes for closure and that’s about it. While I will admit that it still does this in an interesting way, there is something wrong with pushing the victim and his family off to the side so we can focus on “Well how did the daddy of the killer feel?”. That feels a bit off to me, but mostly because I wanted to spend a little extra time seeing how the Demarco’s handled it, particularly the mother who only really has one scene showing the actual pain she’s going through before being relegated to reaction shots. It’s a disparity between focus that I wish they’d changed, giving each side an even amount of time so we could’ve explored this more fully.
I did enjoy the twist right around the middle where… well, I’m not going to spoil what happens but I did like that they played with the motive and addressed another heavy topic, but I just wish they’d taken more time to explore it. The film seems unwilling to touch on the political ramifications of its subject matter, which is confirmed by a line in the description on the film’s website that reads “But this film is not about politics or morality or culture. It’s about a family” which is odd because this topic is inherently about politics and morality, they just try to push that aside. It touches on it in the same way you tap a hot plate to see if it’s still warm. I genuinely wish they had taken a little more time to explore the actual morality of the crime being committed, it’s a big deal and this film had an interesting way to talk about it by giving us an outsider’s perspective but they just don’t go there.
On a technical level, I can forgive a lot of what this film does, it’s a small budget indie film so you are aware it’s going to be a little rough around the edges. Those rough edges include some sound mixing that felt slightly off, some dialogue that was a bit cheesy or just mumbled enough that I couldn’t quite hear it which does distract a little, but that comes with this kind of film. What helps is the genuinely great acting, especially by Amy Redford who owns every scene she’s in. These actors have to carry this film over the finish line and they do it wonderfully, able to show how this tragedy has affected their lives with just a look. Again, they made me want to spend more time with their characters because they played them so wonderfully.
While this film has problems, it’s still a confronting look on the effects that a hate crime has on the people related to those involved, both killer and victim. It shines a light on just how far the hate can spread and the devastation that one impulsive act of evil can have on a family. While I wish the film had gone a little further and maybe spent more time with the characters, it’s an emotional ride that goes beyond what we see in the headlines about hate crimes and it’s worth a look if you can. According to the distributor, it comes out officially on the 24th on Amazon, InDemand, DIRECTV, FlixFling, FANDANGO, Vudu, AT&T, and Sling/Dish so pick it up if you’re in the mood for this kind of film.