Writer: Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton
Director: Andrew Gaynord
A reunion weekend with friends you haven’t seen for some time at a country house will always be fraught with difficulty and when the initial surprise and excitement wears off, a more unsettled feeling descends as the absent years come between you. The ideal premise though for Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton’s psychological comedy All My Friends Hate Me, directed by Andrew Gaynord, that like Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year Colin Burstead that came to the Film Festival in 2018, carefully creates an off-kilter tone as protagonist Pete finds his birthday celebration becomes a test of endurance.
Arriving to meet his university friends for a couple of days, Pete discovers an empty house and no revellers. When things finally get going, the addition of stranger Harry, a local man the group adopted in the pub, sets Pete on edge. A series of strangely pitched celebrations makes Pete feeling the distance as their humour leaves him dejected and attacked. But is Harry the problem or do his friends just hate him?
There is a Pinteresque tone to Palmer, Stourton and Gaynord’s film which introduces a disruptive presence into a previously settled group and draws much of its energy from the effect of a new power source. The way the camerawork creates an oppression within the country house and places Pete at the centre of these disconcerting approaches effectively creates an environment that feels both everyday and a reflection of the character’s disappointment and discomfort.
The consistency of that is well managed to create development for Pete which ultimately leads to an inevitable confrontation and there is considerable mileage in examining the changing nature of a friendship group as they all cling to what may be an expired affection. With circumstances, tastes and even their humour having shifted in the eight years since their graduation, the notion that shared memories are their only connection in the present is relatable and the hero’s struggle with his own maturity believably portrayed.
The narrative doesn’t take the characters anywhere too surprising and even the twists when they come, rather inevitably, cannot live up to the expectation of big secrets that the writers have created and drawn-out. In fact, the film should have had the courage of its convictions with the suddenly mean friends and discomposing influence of the stranger more than enough to create a satisfying finale without any pyrotechnics, just some friends who have outgrown one another finally admitting the end of their time.
Tom Stourton as Pete is an appealing lead, offering his point of view with empathy, although showing across the film that he’s not quite as likeable or sympathetic as he believes himself to be. Among his friends, Joshua McGuire is always good value as George and his wife Fig played by Georgina Campbell stands out, but together they make a credible group which is the film’s biggest strength and ultimately all it really needed to be.
All My Friends Hate Me is screening at the London Film Festival.