The Hater (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A cold, detached character study on online sociopathy

Polish film “The Hater”, which won the Best International Narrative Feature Award at Tribeca Film Festival in this year but then was released on Netlix without much publicity a few days ago, is a cold, detached character study revolving around a sociopath who willingly causes lots of harm and damage inside and outside the Internet as ruthlessly reaching for his ultimate personal goal. While this is certainly not something easy to watch from the very start, the movie gradually holds our attention thanks to its skillful handling of story and characters, and you will come to reflect a lot on the darker sides of social media tools with the growing gut-chilling feeling generated from its disturbing ending.

When we are introduced to Tomasz Giemaza (Maciej Musiałowski) at the beginning of the story, this young law school student is in a serious trouble due to the blatant plagiarism in his homework essay. He tries to persuade his two professors to change their mind, but they remain adamantine in their decision, and they duly notify to him that he will be promptly expelled for his serious academic offense.

When Tomasz subsequently visits his affluent liberal uncle Robert (Jacek Koman) and his wife Zofia (Danuta Stenka) for a dinner, he does not say anything about his current status mainly because he wants to look good enough in front of them and their daughter Gabriela (Vanessa Aleksander). Although Robert and Zofia do not expect much from Tomasz, they have supplied the tuition to him anyway, and it is quite apparent that Tomasz has secretly envied their luxurious lifestyle in addition to being attracted to Gabriela.

As painfully reminded again of the social and economic gap between him and his rich relatives, Tomasz becomes quite determined to take care of his problematic situation as soon as possible. After leaving the school dormitory, he moves to a small apartment, and he also begins to search for a job which may earn him more money than before.

He soon snatches an opportunity via a digital public relations firm run by Beata (Agata Kulesza), a sassy no-nonsense businesswoman who instantly senses that Tomasz has considerable potential which may benefit her company a lot. While her company looks like a plain public relations firm on the surface, it is actually a troll farm packed with many employees ready to hurl anything into the Internet for negative online promotion and campaign, and, as your typical amoral sociopath equipped with quick intelligence, Tomasz surely begins to show more potential day by day after destroying some popular online celebrity once for all with one clever online meme.

Quite satisfied with his good job, Beata hands Tomasz another famous figure to be smeared and destroyed, and that turns out to be a popular liberal politician running for the upcoming election for the mayor of Warsaw. Not so surprisingly, Robert and Zofia have been the devoted supporters of that politician in question, and Tomasz becomes obsessed with ruining that politician – especially after Robert and Zofia decide to distance themselves from Tomasz for not so being honest to them.

His latest job seems to be pretty easy at first, but Tomasz later finds himself in an increasingly tricky circumstance. While he diligently tries to gain the new trust and confidence from Robert and Zofia, he also gets himself indirectly associated with a bunch of right-wing nuts on the Internet, and he particularly focuses on one particular unstable loser who may be manipulated and pushed enough to commit something horrible. If he is not careful, he may lose everything in the worst situation, but he willfully crosses several lines which even his deeply cynical boss does not dare to cross.

Phlegmatically following its increasingly unlikable hero’s toxic quest, the screenplay by Mateusz Pacewicz often examines his twisted human aspects from the distance, and the result is alternatively alienating and fascinating. While we are certainly quite horrified and repulsed by his sheer opportunistic amorality, we cannot help but observe him with more curiosity and fascination mainly because he is so good at his virulent jobs, and the movie thankfully avoids getting too excited about his almost unstoppable advance as bitterly and sharply reminding us of the small and big ramifications of his online actions from time to time.

As the dark center of the movie, Maciej Musiałowski is insidiously intense in his deceptive appearance, and several main cast members of the film function well as his character’s mostly helpless counterpoints. While Vanessa Aleksander, Danuta Stenka, and Jacek Koman are solid as Tomasz’s unsuspecting relatives, Maciej Stuhr and Adam Gradowski are well-cast in their respective crucial supporting parts, and Agata Kulesza, who has been mainly known to us via her acclaimed supporting performance in Oscar-winning film “Ida” (2013), steals the show whenever she appears on the screen.

Overall, “The Hater” is another engaging work from director Jan Komasa, who previously drew our attention for his Oscar-nominated film “Corpus Christi” (2019). Not long after he and his cast and crew members finished the shooting of the film in 2019, Poland was struck by a terrible incident not so far from what is chillingly depicted in the climactic part of the movie, and that surely shows us how close our reality is to what is depicted in the film. We have already been experiencing many dark sides of social media tools during last ten years, but, as implied by the very last shot of the movie, we may be merely going through the prelude for whatever will come next.

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