All My Friends Hate Me opens with Tom Stourton’s Pete on the eve of his big birthday, en route to his friend George (Joshua McGuire)’s family home where his old university friends are throwing him the mother of all posh-people parties. After a few unfortunate encounters with the area’s more unusual residents, the tone for the weekend is successfully set when he arrives to an empty house, the gang having apparently abandoned him in favour of a long afternoon at the pub. From there things only get more uncomfortable for our protagonist, as he begins to suspect that not only do his friends not actually like him, but there may be something even more sinister afoot.
Tom Palmer and Stourton’s screenwriting debut is a delicately balanced horror-comedy, though to which of these extremes the film skews will depend largely on your tolerance for cringe. It is funny, though it’s difficult to appreciate the humour when you find yourself wincing so hard your organs have inverted. The first half hour in particular is written with such excruciating precision that it’s genuinely difficult to watch, the script combining with some astonishingly naturalistic performances to fill the most confident of viewers with existential dread. Stourton does a commendable job of embodying Pete’s bruised-puppy persona, and he injects the protagonist with enough annoying ticks and foibles to build the suspicion that he might even deserve some of the eye-rolls and muted silences his friends serve him on a regular basis.
So, while the script is filled with enough witty barbs to betray the writers’ comedic roots, first-time director Andrew Gaynord amps up the capital-h Horror side of the equation admirably. Pete’s paranoia manifests itself not just in his perception of his friends, but in the long, empty corridors and dark corners of their absurdly posh country retreat. Dustin Demri-Burns is subtly unsettling as Harry, an apparent stranger the group picked up at the pub and who Pete insists is trying to turn them against him. And the rest of the gang’s characterisation for the most part toes the line between friendly and cuttingly cruel admirably.
Yet while the first half walks this tightrope brilliantly, and Graham Dickson’s parodically toffish Archie receives some touching humanisation as the film creeps into its final act, the script’s eagerness to escalate means some of the other characters tend to go in slightly too hard on poor Pete as his birthday weekend comes to a close, straying away from the traumatic realism of earlier scenes and into more outlandishly awful fare. At this point the pendulum swings more firmly towards the comedic, and though the result is perhaps more entertaining than the first half, it’s a shame it comes at the expense of some of its edge.
Despite that, All My Friends Hate Me remains a smart, pacey, and impeccably observed introspection into one man’s crumbling psyche. With plenty to say about dependent relationships, millennial angst and our brains’ infuriating tendency to assume the worst in people, this is one British folk-horror comedy that’s difficult to hate.
All My Friends Hate Me is in cinemas now.