We’re all guilty of saying it, I think. “God, I hated that movie” is a phrase that just rolls off the tongue. I’ve certainly said it myself, but isn’t “hate” an awfully strong word—and an even stronger emotion—to expend on a movie? Step back for a moment and think about it. Isn’t this giving a lot of bad movies simply a lot more power than they could possibly deserve? In reality, isn’t “I hated that movie” mostly a knee-jerk reaction to a less-than-sterling time at the movies and an overstatement of some enormity?
I never thought about this until about 10 years ago when someone on a message board claimed that he hated some Hammer horror picture or other—I think it was Brides of Dracula (1960), but it doesn’t matter much. I thought, no, he really doesn’t mean this. He can’t honestly be expending this much energy on what is at worst a fairly innocuous vampire movie. So I asked him if he didn’t think this sort of energy might better be directed at something—oh, I don’t know—actually worth hating? On something truly morally repellent as opposed to something he merely thought was bad? Well, this was as a red flag to a bull. It earned me several paragraphs on why he hated this movie.
Well, being someone who doesn’t always know when it would be wiser to keep his mouth shut, I foolishly pursued the topic. (Now, bear in mind that I really had no dog in this fight. We’re talking about a movie I’m pretty much ambivalent about whatever Hammer it might have been, except for three or four titles.) How had this movie offended him? Was it oppressing someone? Was it running for president and threatening his peace of mind? Did it in some way outrage his moral sense? Did it advocate some line of thought or action he found repellent or dangerous? No, of course, it did none of these things. It was simply a “bad movie” and he was, he informed me, well within his rights to hate it on that basis. And, yes, that was true. But good Lord, if I actually hated every bad movie I’d ever seen, I’d be worn out from the stress of it.
One week ago—in fact, at exactly the time I’m writing these words—I slogged my way through Furry Vengeance. It wasn’t merely bad, it went all the way into the realm of absolutey God-awful. It is a dreadful, dreadful movie that I resent having sat through and I even more resent the idea that people are paying money to watch. But do I hate Furry Vengeance? I’d say it’s a borderline case, but ultimately what is the point in hating it? It’s here today, gone tomorrow and will be forgotten in three months. I’ll remember it when I go over the 2010 releases at the end of the year in search of the best and worst films that came out. But it’s a movie that’s slated to end up in the obscurity of the Wal-Mart dump bin. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a gigantic “Who cares?” that’s hardly worth hating—unless you happen to end up watching it.
Very often movies that I will come to “hate” have less to do with the movies themselves than with the response to them. For instance, I think the Twilight movies are abominable. I found them both painful to sit through, laughably bad and just downright stupid. But I suspect the intensity of my dislike for them has as much to do with the fact that garbage like this could be so spectacularly popular—and that it will spawn more of the same. That’s depressing. It became more depressing when the suitably talentless Catherine Hardwicke was replaced with the actually talented Chris Weitz for the second movie. Now comes word that Bill Condon—Bill Condon who made Gods and Monsters (1998) and Kinsey (2004)—is directing the fourth installment. Talk about squandering substrantial talent on an obvious cash-grab. I’m sure it means a hefty paycheck for Condon, but I still think we should get together and stage an intervention.
Are there movies that I honestly hate for themselves? Oh, yes. There have been a few movies over the years that I have indeed hated. I can tell the difference between these and movies I just dislike while I’m watching them. I hadn’t actually realized this until I was watching Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006) when my viewing partner leaned over part way through the film and noted, “You’re really getting pissed off, aren’t you?” I’m still not sure how he knew this, but he was dead on. The film was literally making me angry as it played out on the screen. And, yeah, I do hate this movie—something that caused a lot of angry commentary from readers.
Without wishing to re-open that can of worms (though inevitably this will), 300 struck me as right-wing claptrap of the xenophobic variety that also managed to ooze homophobia (ironically, while peddling beefcake) and other dubious messages throughout its CGI-athon of macho nonsense. Nothing has changed to alter that take on the movie. I was thoroughly appalled and repelled by the film. I still am. No argument has changed that because no argument has convinced me that my response is invalid.
I once had the misfortune to sit through Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997). I know quite a few people who insist that Korine is an important filmmaker and that Gummo is some kind of masterpiece. Frankly, it’s the kind of independent film that could make me run screaming to see a Michael Bay movie. It is supposed to be profound in some esoteric fashion that seems grounded in the believe that existence is a miserable, futile business. Alternately boring and repulsive, I loathe this movie with every fiber of my being. Its primary function seems to be to prove that you needn’t have even rudimentary talent to make a movie, so long as what you make is unpleasant. The law of art as nasty medicine will always be with us.
I could certainly include both of Eli Roth’s Hostel movies on any list of movies I hated for themselves, but that’s so much tied to a basic distaste for the the torture porn sub-genre of horror that it seems like it’s giving Roth’s exercises way too much credit. They and their brethren seem more and more like an aberrant offshoot of horror that has largely burnt itself out. Even the Saw movies—that inevitable Halloween staple—seem to be losing traction. As such, these things are well on their way to becoming too negligible to bother with.
Is there anything else? Oh, most certainly, but I’ll close this on what is quite possibly the film I hate more than any other—Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994). Loaded with Oscars, praised to the skies and viewed as something that one dare not love, this remains my personal bete noir of movies. My one line “quick rating” review on Rotten Tomatoes—“Gets my vote for the most offensive, morally repugnant film ever made”—I find has garnered four user comments. One agrees with me, one wishes they could see the whole review (sorry, the one line is it), one misunderstands my ire, and one simply writes, “i hate you. go to hell ken!” I dearly love critical discourse.
So why do I hate Forrest Gump? Well, because it’s the most offensive, morally repugnant film ever made. OK, I’ll explain, though let me also stop to note that it’s also an obnoxiously stupid movie right down to that imebecilic bromide it popularized. You know—“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, in my experience, you’re gonna get a piece of chocolate out of a box of chocolates. Sure, it might be the cool cherry cream or the savoy truffle, but it’s going to be a piece of chocolate of some kind. And of course, the movie is the classic magical mentally-challenged main character yarn of the Oscar bait variety at its most virulent. In that regard, it’s just more dumb goo that has plagued movies for a very long time now. (And that hopefully Tropic Thunder  has killed for all time.) But there’s more.
Now, I expect to be told that I’m “overthinking” the film, but really this all stems from a growing visceral response that happened while I was watching it. The more I watched, the more this film like seemed like some kind of right-wing wet dream. Consider that your main character (Tom Hanks) is the ultimate good little do-bee (as they used to say on Romper Room) who never questions anything and does just what those in authority tell him. And what happens? Why, he comes out on top every time. Because he’s such an unquestioning specimen, even God is on his side. God even uses a hurricane to wipe out all the other shrimp boats to make Forrest and friends fabulously wealthy! (The movie does not record whether Forrest gave all those who lost their livelihood minimum wage jobs—with or without health insurance—in his crustacean empire.)
On the other hand, there’s Jenny (Robin Wright), the great love of Forrest’s life. Now, not only does she question everything, but she’s presented as pretty clueless about it as she attaches herself to whatever anti-establishment movement comes her way. The movie constantly presents her as something of a buffoon in this matter, while the casually conforming Forrest seems to know the real path to happiness is doing what you’re told. Bad Jenny. Bad, misguided Jenny will, of course, pay for the sins of her wayward ways and die of an unspecified virus that is obviously AIDS before the end of the film. Could there possibly be a greater paen of praise to the benefits of conforming, keeping your mouth shut and accepting the status quo than this movie? Is that overthinking Forrest Gump? Or is it just stopping to think about it at all? I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, but in any case, I do truly hate this movie.