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Lovers of Hate -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- Designed to make you laugh and squirm, "Lovers of Hate" does more of the latter. Essentially a cat and mouse game between two warring brothers, the film employs the humor of discomfort to make its points about sibling rivalry. Funny in spots and well acted, the tone will likely confuse a general audience, but those with a taste for the offbeat could find it entertaining.

Writer-director Bryan Poyser has admirably attempted a difficult feat: walking the line between a situation that is funny and dangerously disturbed. At times the film hits the mark, and at others it's too creepy to be funny.

Paul (Alex Karpovsky) is a successful and self-satisfied writer of children's fantasy books in the "Harry Potter" vein. When he was a kid, his older brother Rudy (Chris Doubek) gave him the idea for what would eventually become his franchise. Unable to get his own writing career on track (he's been writing a novel called "Lovers of Hate" for years), Rudy deeply resents his brother's fame and fortune.

As Paul puts it, Rudy is "a perpetual resentment machine" and "so bitter he's like an unripe olive." Rudy's wife Diana (Heather Kafka) has had it with him too and thrown him out for good, making him even more depressed.

But Paul's no bargain himself. Outwardly solicitous to his brother, he not so secretly covets Diana, and when he learns their marriage has broken up, he makes his move. The illicit couple comes together in (appropriately for a Sundance film) Park City, in a ski mansion Paul uses as his writing retreat.

As it turns out, they're not alone. Rudy has tracked them to the house. It's big enough with endless rooms and hiding places for Rudy to listen in without being detected. It's actually quite ingenious how he stalks the couple, secretly stealing their food for dinner and dumping it in the toilet, things like that. At times the film seems more like a Stephen King story than a comedy.

Rudy is just too crazy to come off as sympathetic, and his brother too smarmy to side with. Even Diana has not acted honorably, so there's no rooting interest in any of these three not very likable people. When the mix works, Rudy and Paul are like a dark Mutt and Jeff team. With his frazzled hair and dour demeanor, Doubek captures the character's desperation, while Karpovsky is the perfect foil, expertly doing a slow burn. And Kafka is vulnerable and appealing as the confused woman caught in the middle and worth fighting over.

Cinematographer David Lowery captures the claustrophobia of the house and makes the most of shooting in an enclosed space. And production designer Caroline Karlen has outfitted what would be a dream house if it weren't for the two clowns running around there. Like Sundance, "Lovers of Hate" may be a place you want to visit but you wouldn't want to stay there.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival

Production companies: Invisible Kids, Monfonous Press
Cast: Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky, Zach Green, Harper Cummings, Dan Brown, Lana Dieterich
Director: Bryan Poyser
Writer: Bryan Poyser
Producer: Megan Gilbride
Executive producers: Athina Rachel Tsangari, Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Marcy Garriott
Director of photography: David Lowery
Production designer: Caroline Karlen
Music: Kevin Bewersdorf
Editor: Bryan Poyser
Sales: IP Advisors
No rating, 93 minutes