Christopher Fairbank

All My Friends Hate Me

10/16/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

What do you do when a joke goes too far? When does humour turn to cruelty? And at what point do you need to speak out when your friends are making you unhappy? These questions are cleverly addressed in All My Friends Hate Me. Written by Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer, and directed by Andrew Gaynord, this dark comedy is a slippery exercise in steadily-mounting paranoia.

Pete (Stourton) is about to turn thirty-one and is proud of the work he’s been doing at an overseas refugee camp – and which he’s prone to mention at every opportunity. He’s also considering proposing to his partner, Sonia (Charlie Clive), but first there’s the little matter of an invitation he’s had from his old university chum, George (Joshua McGuire), to go to his swanky house in the country for a long weekend of celebration with the rest of the old uni crew. Sonia is tied up with work, but promises to follow him down later, so Pete gets into his car and sets off with high hopes for a memorable birthday.

Well, it’s certainly that, but for all the wrong reasons.

From the very beginning, things go wrong for him. He gets lost near to his destination and asks for directions from the creepy Norman (Christopher Fairbank, looking suitably sepulchral); he has a misadventure with a man sleeping rough in a car; and, when he finally reaches George’s house, he’s dismayed by what he finds.

His friends have invited a mysterious stranger along. Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) is somebody they’ve ‘met in the pub,’ and he turns out to be quite obnoxious. As the weekend proceeds, Pete – who is socially anxious at the best of times – is subjected to a barrage of practical jokes, hurtful comments and mysterious encounters. Somebody seems to have stolen the herbal pills he takes to keep himself calm – and why does Harry keep writing down things in a little book?

Everything that happens is seen from Pete’s point of view – we share his discomfort every step of the way. One of the guests is Claire (Antonia Clarke), his old flame from college days, and people can’t seem to stop mentioning the fact. Pete hopes things will improve when Sonia finally shows up, but she dutifully arrives – and they don’t.

The ensuing misadventures are by turns toe-curling, darkly funny, deeply embarrassing and occasionally genuinely frightening. I love that the creators of this film steadfastly refuse to take things into the realms of the unbelievable. A Hollywood version of the same story would likely have ventured into bloodshed, mayhem and revenge, but this is all the stronger for avoiding that.

Astute, credible and – at times – even horribly familiar, All My Friends Hate Me keeps me hooked right up to its final unsettling moment. Those planning a birthday celebration away from home may want to wait until after they’ve returned before watching this. Because, well… just because people say they’re your friends, it doesn’t mean they really are.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Lady Macbeth

27/04/17

The ancestral origins of this movie are vaunted by its title, which leads us from Shakespeare’s ruthless anti-heroine to Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. This film, adapted from Leskov’s 1865 novel by Alice Birch and set, this time, in the northeast of England, is a dark and unnerving piece of work, as chilling as it is spare.

Florence Pugh is Katherine, a young Victorian woman sold into marriage. Her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), has no interest in her at all, and his father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), is a brutal tyrant. Both men are often absent from home, and Katherine is alone and bored. At first she sleeps the days away; then she seeks solace in alcohol. And then she encounters Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a farmhand, and they begin a passionate affair. So passionate, in fact, that it is dangerous, in a Heathcliff-Cathy kind of way; it’s surely no coincidence that these two women share a name. There is nothing Katherine won’t do to protect her illicit relationship,  and no one she won’t sacrifice. Even Sebastian himself isn’t safe: “I’d rather kill you than not have you with me,” she says.

This is an extraordinary debut by director, William Oldroyd (he’s made a couple of critically acclaimed shorts in the past, but this is his first full-length film), one of stark originality. It looks like other costume dramas, but it doesn’t feel like them at all. There’s no sound track, which is oddly disconcerting, and accentuates every noise in the horribly quiet house: the cat chewing, the floorboards creaking; everything grates and enervates. Katherine’s frustration is palpable.

This isn’t an easy watch: there is violence and savagery throughout. Katherine’s response to oppression is spirited to say the least; she refuses to be confined. Race and class are important themes here too: mixed-race Sebastian knows he – not she  – will be hanged if their crimes are discovered; black housemaid, Anna, is abused and exploited throughout. Katherine might be isolated, forced into a marriage she doesn’t want, but she has far more power and privilege than those with whom she spends her time.

Unlike her namesake, Katherine never wavers, never feels remorse. She’s powerful and subversive: loud when she’s supposed to be quiet; rebellious to the very end. Florence Pugh has an earthy vitality, and her performance is the foundation on which this remarkable film is built.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield