Directed by Andrew Gaynord from a screenplay by Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton, All My Friends Hate Me is a dark comedy exploring social anxiety, guilt, and the inability of its characters to mature. Gaynord’s debut feature film strikes the right balance between being awkwardly funny, deeply unsettling, and horrifically uncomfortable to the point the audience may be wondering whether the film’s main character, Pete (Stourton), has reunited with his friends for a fun time or if he’s a part of some sordid scheme. Somewhat disorienting and riddled with deep-rooted anxiety, fear, and uncertainty that is expertly portrayed, All My Friends Hate Me is a standout.
Pete is celebrating his 31st birthday by reuniting with his old college friends at the manor of George (Joshua McGuire). Pete hasn’t seen or kept in touch with any of them very much in the last several years and he’s changed a lot since they last saw him. By comparison to his friends, Pete comes off as being a lot more serious, the guy who “can’t take a joke” despite the mean-spiritedness with which his friends — including Fig (Georgina Campbell), Archie (Graham Dickson), and ex-girlfriend Claire (Antonia Clarke) — act towards him, often making him feel uncomfortable. Although he’s cautiously excited about seeing them all, the arrival of Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a man George claims to have brought home from the local pub, changes things. Pete becomes increasingly paranoid and worried that his friends dislike him and that Harry is spearheading the efforts to attack Pete’s character.
All My Friends Hate Me is nothing short of controlled, magnificently plotted chaos. Pete’s social anxiety, as well as his constant worry that something is strangely amiss, drives the narrative. Gaynord, helped along by the fantastic script, manages to capitalize on the uneasy feeling that permeates the film from the get go. Briefly happy moments and lighthearted candor between Pete and his friends are punctuated by the startlingly eerie score by Will Lowes and Joe Robbins. The differences between Pete and his friends, all of whom remained much closer to each other in the years since Pete left town, crystalize as the film goes on.
No matter what he does or how he tries to fit in, Pete never fully feels comfortable and it’s this very feeling that amplifies the very real anxieties over social etiquette and conformities that create tantalizing conflict and tension throughout the film. The story plays out so that Pete feels clearly left out, like everyone is mocking him, against him, or dislikes who he is now. Gaynord lingers just long enough in every moment to allow for several fish-out-of-water scenarios and waves of disconcertment, often executing scenes as though a horror movie, with surprising jump-scares that work effectively alongside all of the apprehension. These things elevate the sense of dread, which builds up seamlessly and leads to an exciting, dark, and riveting finale.
Do Pete’s friends hate him? Has he changed so much that he no longer finds their jokes funny or is Pete the one being pretentious? All of the answers come at the end and the twist will force the audience to reexamine the situation, with the filmmakers thoroughly pulling the rug out from under Pete and simultaneously deepening his character so that everything he’s feeling makes sense. There isn’t a single moment that All My Friends Hate Me wastes, masterfully bringing all of the mysteries and foreboding discomfort together in an exceptional, if off-putting, end. The film also touches upon memory and the pressure of having to live up to the expectations of who someone once was, differentiating between how one might remember themselves versus the perception of friends.
The film is unexpectedly poignant and multifaceted in its portrayals. It’s also one of the most nuanced and memorable of the year, with every character interaction a step towards a deeply satisfying, emotionally resonant, and rather awkward ending. All My Friends Hate Me explores the question of whether people can change, what that means for their relationships with others, and how one’s own social anxieties can deeply affect and shape interactions and perceptions. Audiences will laugh with nervous discomfort at Pete’s situation, while perhaps finding several parts of it relatable.
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All My Friends Hate Me had its North American premiere during the 2021 Tribeca Festival on June 12. The film is 93 minutes long and is not yet rated.
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