ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME and the Art of Birthday Tension

“Everybody loves you, Petey.”

Sometimes it’s obvious when a film isn’t going to land with anybody except the very, very few. Those few of course belong to that specific breed of moviegoers who embrace films that have sharp tonal shifts, meld genres and offer up a collection of themes that most people would rather choose to not acknowledge at all. All My Friends Hate Me is a perfect example of such a film. A dark comedy, this British indie is loaded with a bevy of uncomfortable moments that delve headfirst into motifs of anxiety, paranoia and neuroses. Throw in a joke about Jimmy Saville, a suicide attempt and a protagonist who doesn’t seem to like himself too much and one would have all the information needed to brace themselves for the unnerving, yet oddly compelling, ride ahead.

All My Friends Hate Me opens on Pete (Tom Stourtan), a good-looking and successful 30-something on his way to a birthday weekend in the English countryside. Meeting him there are four of his closes friends from his college days, including Fig (Georgina Chapman), Archie (Graham Dickson), Joshua McGuire (George) and Claire (Antonia Clarke), with whom Pete was once romantically involved years before. Pete is determined to enjoy the weekend with his friends and new girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive), but the presence of a new addition to the group named Harry, (Dustin Demri-Burns) and various strange interactions with his friends are sending the birthday boy into a quiet frenzy.

As alienating as All My Friends Hate Me might sound on the surface, director and co-writer Tom Palmer (who shares writing credit with Stourton) has created a film that will definitely speak to those who can’t help but be drawn in by how much they eerily connect with it. The film is a mix of tension, dark comedy, and satire, managing to juggle each of these elements while never sacrificing anything in the way of character. A moment of black humor is swiftly followed by a scene of slight suspense as Pete begins to wonder exactly what kind of situation he’s in and what’s happened to the people he used to know.

The amount of uncomfortable moments is staggering. Innocent exchanges between Pete and his friends leave him sucker punched and in a bit of a daze as if he’s been called out, and in some cases, even attacked by the very people gathered together to celebrate him. It’s through these scenes that a number of brilliant twists are able to be inserted as we, like Pete, indeed begin to question if everyone here really is against him. Palmer also takes the opportunity to add a touch of surrealism from time to time, wonderfully bringing more entertaining tension to the film. None of this bogs the movie down, however. All My Friends Hate Me maintains great pacing, moving with the kind of precision that makes the audience feel as if they’re with Pete on his nightmarish roller-coaster of a weekend.

All My Friends Hate Me carries a great many themes in the midst of its dark zaniness. Among some of the various ideas posed is the question of how much we know and understand our friends today compared to when we last saw them. Is it a question of them not having moved on, while you yourself changed into someone else, or is it perhaps something more? With a strong level of reflection being forced upon the proceedings as soon as the weekend begins, the film wastes no time in challenging both its main character (and the audience watching him) to reassess his relationship with the past.

Having co-written the script, it would be practically unacceptable for Stourton to turn in anything other than a top-notch performance as the film’s lead, which he does. The character’s journey and current state in life may be specific, but the actor makes him an individual worthy of understanding and latching onto. Whether a person will feel sympathy for Pete or feel he deserves what he gets, there’s no denying Stourton’s turn is the one true key for making the entire experience work.

The rest of the ensemble each find their footing and play their characters well, particularly a sparkling Chapman. One look at the group of characters, and it becomes easy to imagine these people being friends in the past. It’s Demri-Burns though as the overly intrusive Harry, who leaves the biggest impression. Presented as a stranger the group met at a pub, Harry’s verbal and physical intrusiveness towards Pete is an ongoing source of hilarious menace and is delivered to perfection thanks to the actor’s maddening performance.

All My Friends Hate Me ends on the perfect cliffhanger note for the audience, but certainly not for Pete. It’s the kind of ending that leaves our heads in a tailspin and causes us to question virtually everything we’ve seen before and what we thought to be true. Once the film was over, I found myself reflecting on a number of questions, with the most unanswerable one being: What happened to me when I wasn’t looking? The strength of All My Friends Hate Me is the way it encourages the kind of mental deep-diving most people choose to avoid. Dark laughs and tension aside, this is a film that insists every audience member reconcile themselves with who they were in the past and who they’ve become in the present.

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