This film is the center of a whole lot of controversy in the UK right now because our classification board, the BBFC, has refused to grant it a certificate. This means it is completely banned for sale or broadcast of any kind, unlike in America for example where a film can be released “unrated”. If you exclude a few extreme pornos, this makes Hate Crime only the fourth movie have been banned here in the last decade after the awful Japanese torture film Grotesque, Bunny Game (which I have not seen), and perhaps most famously The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), which was rather soon granted an 18 certificate after a few minutes of cuts following an online backlash against the decision. The debate has opened up once again, weighing up freedom of speech against the perceived harm these films may cause. The only options for someone in this country to see Hate Crime are to wait weeks for a DVD to be imported, or to illegally download it (which I legitimately do not endorse). I was lucky enough however to have director James Cullen Bressack let me see this film so I could make my own mind up about this whole furore.
Hate Crime follows the home video of a Jewish family celebrating their young son’s birthday. Very soon into the film their home is broken into by three Neo-Nazis who commandeer the camera as they degrade, torture, rape, and murder members of the family. It’s an undeniably grim prospect for a movie, and touches on a variety of incredibly sensitive topics, but this film does not tread lightly, diving headfirst into the brutality. Unflinching and persistent, this film is a truly unpleasant experience – the things the family endure are sadistic and inhuman, and added to that, the family have no dark secrets, no connection to the invaders; the film doesn’t offer the slightest bit of motivation behind the attack beyond warped prejudice. But that’s the whole point; not everything always ties up neatly and it makes the film feel like a frighteningly realistic representation of such attacks that occur all too often in real life. Horrific things are done to the characters but this is normally just out of shot or otherwise obscured leaving the gruesome details to our imagination. So there is very little gore and no graphic nudity in this film, defying what I had prepared myself for given the BBFC’s ruling. This, along with the pervasively grim tone, complete absence of comic relief & lack of any music or score, prevents the film sensationalizing the violence, and from feeling like it’s intended to be entertaining in any way.
Some incredibly poor acting in the opening scene got me worried, but the sudden shift in tone brings with it a far higher standard of acting from the family, and from the invaders themselves, leaping around in an animalistic, drug-fueled frenzy. The actors do an incredible job, genuinely quite terrifying at times, without making it come across as humorous in a manner that reminded me of a much darker version of the droogs in A Clockwork Orange. As the film develops it’s clear the attackers are not a well-organised group with their own conflicts and in one case, some severe issues. It’s far from sympathetic given the horrific things they do, but it’s a brave choice to make them a bit more than faceless masked maniacs. Giving the camera to the attackers allows this to happen, but also gives an interesting new perspective on the home invasion genre; instead of the camera lingering on a victim hiding in the shadows for example, we see the killer furiously searching. It’s actually no less tense this way; either way we desperately don’t want them to be found.
Not pretending to be “based on a true story”, the film takes a somewhat classier approach by ending on a title card stating the rising number of hate crimes in the US & the simple message that “Hate & Prejudice still exists today”. There aren’t many totally new ideas in the film, and there’s a distinct lack of development in the family’s characters, but the unusual twist on the well-trodden genre is plenty enough to make it’s mark, and running almost entirely in a faux one-shot, this film offers an unflinching, gut-wrenching & terrifying view of one of the most unimaginable true-life horrors.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR HATE CRIME FOLLOW
Back to the BBFC’s decision however. Their full statement is available here. I understand when the likes of Cannibal Holocaust are banned in their uncut versions in this country because of the scenes featuring staged animal cruelty making it illegal. The same if any film featured other illegal content like paedophilia or whatever else real-life footage some twisted mind thought might be a good idea. The question here though, is the fact that such footage has victims: in the case of every horror movie banned by the BBFC in recent years, the footage has been entirely staged, consenting & fictional, therefore entirely without victims, so the banning isn’t protecting anyone involved in production or preventing future crimes. We then must go to the potential impact the movies have on individuals and society. If this film somehow gave the impression that the attackers were somehow justified in their actions, even made them slightly relatable I could understand it being considered morally unacceptable, perhaps even verging on some sort of propaganda. But the fact of the matter is this film is black & white on the issue: the family are good people, the attackers are very bad & what they do is unthinkably terrible. So the BBFC’s statement that “this work, even if confined to adults… would risk potential harm” is utter nonsense. The vast majority of the population are perfectly capable of understanding that breaking into a family’s home & torturing them is not okay, and anyone who sees a film / video game / any media with violent content like this and thinks “oh boy, I really want to do that!” clearly has some major issues already & needs serious help regardless of whether Hate Crime is on the shelves of HMV or not. The suggestion that the film “would be unacceptable to broad public opinion” is entirely missing the point of extreme cinema, and could be extended to a world where no media can be released in case it might upset a few people, as though we’re all incapable of simply not watching something we don’t like, or of dealing with the unpleasant truths of modern society, much like when you tell a small child to look away from nasty images on the 6 o clock news. They also say that “Little context is provided for the violence beyond an on-screen statement at the end of the film that the two attackers who escaped were subsequently apprehended and that the one surviving family member was released from captivity”. This genuinely makes me quite angry – not only are they willfully missing the point of the movie; that these attacks genuinely do happen for no reason & that is why it is so horrific; but they are omitting the last two, by far most important on-screen messages explaining the uncomfortable yet nonetheless true context of the movie in the real world. It’s one of those cases where someone isn’t directly lying, but is deliberately misrepresenting the truth to make themselves seem right, and I think that is absolutely unacceptable for an organisation with such responsibilities to twist the reality in such a way. I would like to believe that enough pressure can be put on the BBFC, as was with The Human Centipede 2, for them to reverse the decision, but it certainly seems that, since no gore or nudity is featured, it’s the tone of the film that is considered unacceptable, so we may have to accept for now that the people in control of our media have decided we’re not morally mature or intelligent enough to see films that shine a light on incredibly dark sides of real life unless there’s a person on screen for the duration repeating “THIS IS WRONG. DO NOT DO THIS.” like a CBeebies special on “not killing people”.