A reunion! Getting together with your closest friends from a decade ago and re-living your glory days all over again. Sounds like fun – but people change, times change and, when you’ve not seen each other for so long, there’s the distinct risk you could be spending time with a group of near-total strangers. Which might not be so much fun.
It’s exactly where Pete (Tom Stourton) finds himself, as he arrives in Devon for a weekend with his university gang. The one-time bad boy of the group has turned a dramatic corner: now he dates a down-to-earth Northern girl, works with refugees and is determined to show everybody else just how far he’s come. But not only have they changed too, they also insist on expecting him to be the Pete they remember. And they bring along Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) to the get-together, a vaguely sinister stranger they met in the pub who is the life and soul of the party that Pete used to be. He’s undermined at every turn and paranoia sets in at a rate of knots.
That sense of awkwardness and, indeed, angst sets in long before Pete even reaches the luxurious country house which is home for the weekend. He’s frightened by a dog belonging to a homeless man he meets on the roadside, while the salt of the earth local he asks for directions (Christopher Fairbank) isn’t exactly forthcoming. He’s a fish out of water, feels inadequate and wishes he’d never left the city. It gets no better when everybody else arrives and his feelings of threat and discomfort never go away.
All My Friends Hate Me doesn’t aspire to be a horror. It never gets further than a prickly feeling of unease, most of which belongs to Pete, and is centred on his desire for everybody to take him as seriously as he takes himself. For their debut feature, Stourton and co-writer Tom Palmer (the pair also produced the film), effectively build an atmosphere of skin-crawling awkwardness coupled with an uncertainty that holds the audience firmly in its grasp. But that grip slackens in the final third. Pete’s fears are, in essence, banal yet he feels them intensely, and that disconnect isn’t accentuated enough. At the same time, the story loses its sense of direction and, instead of giving us a sense of resolution, much is left up in the air.
Palmer and Stourton’s comedy background is very much on show, however, with the laughs coming from the sharply drawn characters and smart performances as well as those cringe-making moments. And, yes, like everybody else, we laugh at Pete himself, even though we have a niggling sympathy with his discomfort. The guy can’t win. He’s forgotten how to laugh at himself and now, instead of being the joker, he’s simply the joke.
Comedy | Cert: 15 | UK cinemas from 10 June 2022 | BFI Distribution | Dir. Andrew Gaynord | Tom Stourton, Dustin Demri-Burns, Christopher Fairbank, Antonia Clarke, Graham Dickson.