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.