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“They’re really not stereotypical posh people,” Pete (Tom Stourton) tells his girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive), somewhat pleadingly. They’re headed down to Devon for his 31st birthday, about to reunite with a group of university friends he hasn’t seen in nearly a decade. He’s really doing his best to sound reassuring. But he knows he’s lying. So does the audience. Within minutes, that’s how Andrew Gaynord’s darkly comic All My Friends Hate Me clues us in to the fact that Pete is that uniquely insufferable brand of person: the self-hating rich kid.
Soon enough, Pete’s perched on the edge of a brocade-patterned settee with his glass of white wine, pulling out superficially wholesome stories about refugee children he’s met doing charity work abroad. That’s when he’s not rolling his eyes at his toff mate’s (Graham Dickson) business proposals – something about an app that lets rich people go abseiling without having to interact with the plebs. When his friends bring along Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a boisterous stranger they met down the pub, Pete’s immediately troubled by the way they all seem to treat him like a sideshow attraction. “You’ll love him, a real local,” they assure him, as Harry comes sauntering in with a duck underneath his arm.
You could call All My Friends Hate Me a horror, if it’s possible to shrink that genre down to its most intimate, sweat-inducing banalities. Will Lowes and Joe Robbins’s synth score is heavy with the ominous tremors of a slasher film, while Ben Moulden’s cinematography takes advantage of the vague and sinister nature of the English countryside: quaint but thick with secrets. Early on, Pete asks for directions from an unnervingly chipper old man in a flat cap who ends their conversation with the threat that he “might come join [him] later”. Above death, or any other kind of torture, Pete fears the confirmation that he hasn’t, in fact, changed as a person in the last decade or so. He’s put in a Herculean effort to rid himself of his own obnoxious youth, only for the illusion to be shattered the instant he’s reunited with the people who knew him at his worst.
Stourton co-wrote the script with his longtime comedy partner Tom Palmer (the two have performed several Edinburgh Festival shows under the name Totally Tom). It’s a sharply tuned piece of writing which toys constantly with the audience’s sympathies. Pete sucks, but are his friends even worse? George (Joshua McGuire) seems fickle, too ready to stir up tension between Pete and his former hook-up Claire (Antonia Clarke). Fig (Georgina Campbell), at one point, tosses off the casual phrase, “life is too short to care about anything”. It comes off like a simplified version of that devastating Great Gatsby quote: “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness”.
The film is scored with the implicit but often unspoken class divisions of rural areas, as the upper classes loaf around in their country estates. Is Pete’s unease around Harry really any different to the newcomer’s bizarre fetishisation by his friends? Or is Pete not unjustified in his suspicions, since Harry has a strange habit of whipping out his notebook to jot down a few words mid-conversation? Is a person morally superior if they’re simply better at hiding their illiberality? Audiences may spend the running time of All My Friends Hate Me waiting impatiently for the shoe to finally drop. But Stourton and Palmer’s script points heavily at a secret that’s far less satisfying in the reveal than it is in the build-up. Maybe that’s the point. Here’s a film that leaves you with the same sickly, hollow feeling you might get spending time with the ghosts of your own past.