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‘All My Friends Hate Me’ Review: Scary-Funny British Satire Unpacks the Anxieties of Old Friendships

A self-involved 31-year-old's birthday weekend goes to hell when he grows paranoid that his college friends are trying to replace him.

“All My Friends Hate Me”

A scary-funny British satire that cringes in horror at the all too familiar sort of affluent, over-educated millennials who are somehow both self-obsessed and deeply ashamed of themselves at the same time, Andrew Gaynord’s queasily entertaining “All My Friends Hate Me” unpacks a weekend in Devon into a bitter little picnic of modern discomfort.

Its story hinges on a simple notion about the unnatural forces that might compel a 31-year-old neurotic like Pete (co-writer Tom Stourton) to keep even his most toxic college friendships on life support: He’s mortified about the man he used to be, but the only people who can let him off the hook are the ones who knew him back then. They’re the only ones who might be able to appreciate how much he’s changed. So while Pete is plenty amped up for the rural getaway that his old chums have planned for his birthday — only real ’90s kids will fully understand how funny it is when he blasts “Sandstorm” by Darude to get the juices flowing — his excitement isn’t necessarily owed to the promise of reliving his glory days.

On the contrary, Pete is hellbent on showing everyone how far he’s come.

Once the captain of the drinking time at a posh university full of privileged ne’er do wells just like him, our boy has spent the last few years working with refugees, dating a middle-class northern girl, and talking about both of those things ad nauseum. Pete’s game-plan for the reunion couldn’t be simpler. Until, that is, his late-arriving pals make a strange — and possibly sinister — new friend at the local pub. The trouble with Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) is that he’s the life of the party and all the fun Pete used to be. He’s an existential threat. And while Pete may be itching to adopt a more adult persona, the only thing worse than not being able to escape how much you hate yourself is the gnawing suspicion that all of your friends might hate you too.

Inspired by a rush of paranoia that Stourton once experienced at a wedding where he felt unwelcome, “All My Friends Hate Me” effectively splits the difference between Ruben Östlund and Ben Wheatley as it pinballs between squirmy laughs and sly horrors. Is Harry — always scribbling in his little notebook and watching people while they sleep — really trying to replace Pete’s role in the group and weasel his way into a richer social stratum, or has Pete just wound himself into someone who’s forgotten how to take a joke? While the answer to that question ultimately proves to be a bit underwhelming, there’s still great schadenfreude to be had in watching a guy without any real problems in his life gaslight himself into believing that the world is out to get him.

Which isn’t necessarily to say that Pete isn’t in any danger, or that he’s off his rocker to wonder if people may not have his best interests at heart. For one thing, there’s a lot of menace wafting off the local types, starting with the homeless man whose dog terrorizes Pete on his way to the house, and continuing with the craggy-faced groundskeeper whose salt of the earth demeanor is so intense that it can’t help but make Pete feel like a pretentious fraud (the detail that Pete, despite always prattling on about his work with refugees, is naturally suspicious and/or afraid of all the film’s less privileged characters epitomizes the sharp ironies of the script that Stourton wrote with his longtime comedy partner Tom Palmer). For another, Pete’s friends are kind of assholes.

Archie (Graham Dickson) is a rich drug addict who seems like he just stumbled out of “The Rules of Attraction,” and won’t shut up about his truly abysmal idea for a new app. George (“Lovesick” actor Joshua McGuire) is a fair bit softer, but even he doesn’t see the harm in busting Pete’s chops. It’s George who keeps yammering on about how Claire (Antonia Clarke) is still in love with Pete, and it’s George — Pete is convinced — who troubles the water by telling Claire that Pete is about to ask his absent girlfriend to marry him.

George’s girlfriend Fig (Georgina Campbell) is beautiful, refined, and appears to be the least hostile of the bunch, and yet she’s the one who ends the first night by callously telling Pete that he’s rubbing everyone the wrong way. And then there’s Harry, whose childish jokes are so funny to everyone else that Pete can’t help but feel like his oldest friends have all been body-snatched during their time apart; Pete is never more sympathetic than when he ends a scene by digesting what just happened with a baffled “fucking wut?” And yet, that growing sense of confusion begins to sprout in Pete’s mind, gradually overtaking his logic.

Among other things, Gaynord’s film shrewdly understands how someone can be so preoccupied with the question of “do my friends still like me?” that they never stop to consider “do I still like my friends?” Narcissism doesn’t always necessitate arrogance — sometimes it just leads to paranoia. Or maybe Pete isn’t crazy to imagine that Harry might be up to something. Maybe he’s not delusional to think that Harry knows the darkest chambers of his heart too well to be a perfect stranger.

As “All My Friends Hate Me” teeters closer to the brink of a full-on psychic collapse and the party weekend turns into an outright crucible for the man Pete’s molded himself into, the severity of Gaynord’s direction begins to lose its cheek; its refined British stiffness hardens into something more akin to “The Shining.” There’s clear skill and admirable restraint to how the film pulls taut enough to support its tightrope walk of a finale, but — as tends to happen in subjectively told stories about people who question the reality of their surroundings — “All My Friends Hate Me” is so preoccupied with plausible deniability and maintaining its balance that it can’t afford to go too hard in any direction.

The movie’s preference for nausea over terror explains why it’s never particularly scary, but even its most skin-crawling moments of social agony feel like they’re holding something back. In a film that thrives off the tense disconnect between the inanity of Pete’s fears and the intensity with which they’re felt, it’s a missed opportunity that Gaynord and his Toms neglected to stretch things a few degrees further. And yet, sharp characterizations and a genteel riot of fine-tuned performances find ample rewards in all of this awkwardness. And the film’s occasional concessions aren’t enough to soften the blow of its most bruising punchline: People can get into some pretty serious trouble if they forget how to laugh at themselves.

Grade: B

“All My Friends Hate Me” is now playing in theaters, and will be available on VOD starting Friday, March 25.

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