Psychological horror is delivered in an unusually pure form in All My Friends Hate Me, a British movie saving its best moves for its closing moments, when it shifts tone three, four, maybe five times.
It repurposes the plot and some of the mood of The Wicker Man – a guy bumbling around in a situation he’s drastically misreading – but instead of murderous yokels as his nemesis, this guy is having a reunion weekend away with old university friends at the country pile of one of them, the incredibly wealthy George (Joshua McGuire).
Things get off to a bad start when Pete gets lost en route, disturbs a mysterious/furious man sleeping in a filthy car and asks a local for directions – an interaction that will come back and bite him later on. But for the most of it this is a weekend of painful anxiety for Pete, with people he isn’t sure he knows any more. He feels awkward and out of place and they seem to have lost whatever respect for him they might once have had.
This is all compounded by the presence of Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a local oik Pete’s friends have befriended in the pub and who is now muscling in on the weekend, acting as a lord of misrule and generally getting up Pete’s nose. Is Harry also needling Pete, or is Pete just being a wee bit sensitive? How will this gang of old friends react when Pete’s girlfriend, Sonia, arrives later? In particular, how will Claire (Antonia Clarke) take it when Sonia (Charly Clive) turns up, what with her and Pete once having been an item so serious that Claire attempted suicide when they broke up, or so the story goes?
A grand house, some beautiful but forbidding English countryside, a handful of characters, these elements are expertly spun together by writers Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton (who also plays Pete) and director Andrew Gaynord, who is alive to the pagan undertow in the landscape.
What’s interesting about All My Friends Hate Me is how carefully it keeps us on one side of the line dividing the psychological from the out-and-out horrific. Will it cross over, as horror films eventually must? The film is a tease, playing with genre expectation, as well as stereotypes about feral locals with regional accents and brainless toffs with no backbone.
This starts with Pete – who may be just a guy having a bad day or perhaps there’s something more deep-seated going on. But it’s most keenly expressed through the pivotal Harry, Dustin Demri-Burns putting in a brilliantly ambiguous performance as a person who’s true nature seems to flicker. One moment a lairy local who loves a good time, especially if out-of-towners are buying the drinks. The next something much darker, like something that’s slipped in through a portal connecting up to a pre-Christian age.
Personally, I wanted it to go banzai horror, to break the terrible tension that builds, builds, builds as Tom endures the weekend from hell, when drink, drugs and anxiety combine with Pete’s own rather woke sense of himself – he has a job helping refugees and won’t stop bringing it up – to progressively alienate Pete from the others. We feel sorry for Pete. Or perhaps we don’t.
Palmer and Stourton’s embrace of ambiguity means that all the characters have a bit more depth than is strictly required by the plot’s mechanics. Awful toff Archie, off his face on cocaine and ketamine most of the time, does realise he’s an awful toff. George may well be aware that beautiful Fig (Georgina Campbell) is with him on account of his huge wealth, and Fig might well have other reasons as well, whereas Claire isn’t entirely the limp rag she at first appears.
It does not end up with Pete in a burning wicker man, or anything like it, but it does all resolve in a mad moment that’s worth hanging on for, when all the tension comes to head and… well, watch it for yourself.
All My Friends Hate Me – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022