AMMAN: “The Hater” — the latest release from Oscar-nominated Polish director Jan Komasa — sees expelled law student Tomasz taking a job at a shady PR firm, where he discovers an affinity for crafting disinformation campaigns and whipping up online fanaticism.
Tomasz develops a close relationship with a wealthy progressive family he knew in his childhood, only to wind up employing his new skillset when his obsession with the liberal family (or, more specifically, their daughter) takes a sinister turn.
After proving himself by trashing the reputation of an up-and-coming fitness guru, Tomasz is given a more substantial target: the mayoral campaign of a charismatic, liberal politician supported by the family. With sinister glee, the wayward teenager ingratiates himself with the campaign before pulling it apart in brutal fashion.
Komasa’s movie wound up being tragically prescient as, just a few weeks after filming was completed, the mayor of Gdansk — a liberal Polish politician frequently targeted by online campaigns — was stabbed to death during a campaign event. The horrible parallel lends the movie a discomforting air, and makes for an occasionally unpleasant viewing experience.
Maciej Musiałowski puts in an intense performance as Tomasz, veering from depressed loner to sociopathic mastermind a little too easily for audiences to develop much sympathy for the character’s plight. At times, Tomasz is almost undone by his inexperience and naivety, but on other occasions he demonstrates such calculating dispassion that it’s virtually impossible to feel much empathy.
“The Hater” goes to some dark places as Tomasz stokes online hatred, manipulates his friends and channels white nationalist tendencies to achieve his goals. But with a protagonist prone to such extreme behaviors, it’s hard to figure out who, if anyone, the audience is supposed to be rooting for. And when the film’s savage (albeit telegraphed) climax rolls around, there’s an unsatisfying sense of a missed opportunity.
“The Hater” asks a few, hard questions about online communities, trolling and fake news. But it never really gets around to answering any of them.