Maintaining school friendships as a grown-up is hard. Tom Stourton‘s character Pete learns this fact in the aptly titled and bitterly dark comedy All My Friends Hate Me. Director Andrew Gaynord‘s debut feature takes on one of life’s more stressful social situations — the reunion. When he commemorates his birthday at a pastoral manor with estranged college chums, Pete slowly suspects they’ve brought him there for different reasons. And bit by bit, his well-being splinters as paranoia seeps in over a tense weekend fraught with awkward interactions and misunderstandings.
Pete is cautiously eager as he talks about his college friends with girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive), who arranges to meet him later at the birthday venue. Right now, the biggest concern is whether or not Pete and his friends can still get along after so much time apart. His suspicions prove correct, seeing as Pete becomes an instant target for everyone at the gathering. Graham (Joshua McGuire), Archie (Graham Dickson), and Fig (Georgina Campbell) express their microaggressions here and there — for instance, they accuse Pete of adapting a Northern accent possibly as a way to seem less “posh,” or they scold him for flaunting his pending engagement in front of ex Claire (Antonia Clarke), who may or may not still be hung up on Pete. What seems even weirder is the others bringing a fishy local named Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) to Pete’s party without his consent. Given everything that’s happened so far and what’s to come, no one can blame Pete for feeling apprehensive.
The movie’s impetus is a potent cocktail of Pete’s internal fears and glaring persecution complex. Every time he tries to be above the group’s immaturity and steer away from the chance of insensitivity, or he feels threatened because he’s now the butt of their supposed bullying, it all blows up in his face. So in everyone else’s eyes, including the audience’s at one point or another, Pete is the real jerk here.
It’s true Pete, who Tom Stourton brilliantly plays all sides of, is self-centered and doesn’t make the best impression at first. Over time, however, that obnoxiousness is replaced with pitifulness. Despite being dubbed “Skippy” on account of his self-proclaimed jovial and fun nature back in college, Pete succumbs to his pathos. He reads every one of his friends’ faintly discernible affectations as an attack on himself. It’s not hard to put yourself in his shoes after awhile, and you’d be remiss to not feel an iota of sympathy for the fool who’s been emotionally targeted at his own birthday.
The horror promised here ends up being psychological rather than overt. Even so, you feel a comparable level of discomfort; the movie doesn’t guarantee Pete is completely safe from harm, and all ominous evidence points to an unsavory ending. Gaynord sustains that unrelenting threat level by putting up smoke screens with Harry being the most obvious. His role is unclear to both Pete and viewers — is he the slumbering, houseless stranger Pete disturbed en route to the manor, or is he really just someone from the local pub now trying to turn Pete’s friends against him? Either way, danger is afoot.
Things temporarily improve once Sonia arrives; the others like her despite what all Pete expected to happen after meeting her for the first time. What would be good news for anyone else who’s nervous about two disparate parts of their lives finally converging, ends up being the start of Pete’s utter undoing. All the gaslighting and self doubt becomes unmanageable, and Pete regurgitates the most destructive character assassination possible, all because of a complete misunderstanding. It was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to finally drop, but actually seeing it unfold is still unpleasant. Pete isn’t absolved from his own behaviors, but his tormentors virtually get off scot-free. It seems unfair because it is.
All My Friends Hate Me will make you squirm and undoubtedly angry. The humor is ineffective since the movie isn’t so much a comedy as it is a vicious takedown of a flawed and inherently miserable person whose adulthood offenses don’t warrant the choice of execution. It’s difficult to find enjoyment when parsing the main conflict, but Gaynord achieves a near thorough level of tension while showing off the setting’s beautiful, natural scenery and illustrating funnyman Stourton’s versatility. You won’t walk away with a better understanding of your own social anxieties, but maybe this can be a lesson on how not to treat others we would normally consider our friends.
All My Friends Hate Me screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.