It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Hate Crime" is set in motion with the murder of a gay man, but the title refers to more than one kind of hate and more than one kind of crime. At the end we're left with good and evil in a bewildering tangle. The story is sometimes overwritten, often overwrought, includes an overheard conversation on the "Nancy Drew" level, and yet holds our attention and contains surprises right until the end.
The story begins with Robbie and Trey (Seth Peterson and Brian J. Smith), a long-established gay couple. A new neighbor moves in next door: Chris Boyd (Chad Donella). He makes it clear he hates homosexuals: "You're going to hell." A few nights later, while Trey is walking their dog in the park, he is beaten to death with a baseball bat.
Robbie is sure he knows who did it. The new neighbor, Chris, even has a previous hate crime on his record. A detective (Farah White) is assigned to the case, considers Chris a suspect, and then is joined by a senior detective (Giancarlo Esposito) who sees the case differently and has another suspect. Meanwhile, we see the home life of Chris Boyd. His father, Pastor Boyd (Bruce Davison), is the leader of a fundamentalist congregation much given to sermons that linger in loving detail on sinners in the hands of an angry god. His mother Martha (Susan Blakely) is a sweet, worried woman who supports her husband primarily, it appears, because anything else might be a sin. Their family dinners are fraught with tension.
Also in the film, less crucial but well-drawn, are Cindy Pickett and Sean Hennigan as Trey's parents. Lin Shaye has a peculiar but vivid role as a neighbor who agrees with Pastor Boyd's religion in theory, but considers Robbie and Trey "my family" and has reason to suspect the cops: "You can't trust anybody but yourself."