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‘It Is in Us All’ Review: Star Cosmo Jarvis Investigates the Conflicting Desires of Modern Masculinity

SXSW: Jarvis gives a force-of-nature turn in writer-director Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ atmospheric first feature.

It Is In Us All

“It Is In Us All”

Courtesy SXSW

Ireland’s coast serves as a catalyst for a man’s furious unraveling in writer-director Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ strikingly atmospheric first feature. “It Is in Us All,” a hyper-visceral portrayal of manhood in its purest unrestrained form, is anchored by the force-of-nature turn from its superlative star Cosmo Jarvis. Intoxicating to the senses, this film boasts an indomitable vitality, a zest for life so uncontainable it brims with mortal danger.

British-raised Hamish (Jarvis), a put-together man in his 30s, returns to the seaside Irish hometown of his late mother to see the house he inherited from his aunt before selling it. But on his drive there, a fateful car crash sends him to the hospital without major bodily injuries, but a torturous moral wound: In the collision, a teenaged boy in the other car died, while the alleged passenger, 17-year-old Evan (Rhys Mannion), survived.

What he expected to get resolved in a quick trip turns into a cataclysm of the soul that discombobulates his understanding of who his mother was and his own identity as a man: more precisely, as the Irish man he could have been had they stayed there. Within its walls, the house hosts evidence of her attachment to this place, which he later confirms in interactions with the locals who knew her.

As a mutual interest develops between Hamish and Evan — who are united in their knowledge of what really happened the night of the accident— the former’s inner turmoil begins uncontrollably pouring out of him in increasingly destructive fashion. It’s as if this place and this indefinable relationship with someone much younger has awakened something within him that he can no longer suppress.

The natural beauty of the rural terrain and the water that surrounds it brings out everyone’s best work. Cinematographer Piers McGrail’s moody imagery can almost make one feel the crisp air. A shot of Hamish screaming into the ferocious wind visually communicates his frenetic state. The eerie melancholy of the mostly gloomy frames rich in their dark hues finds company in Tom Furse’s piercing waves of rousingly uncanny music.

And though the pacing of “It Is In Us All” feels perhaps too precious in observing Hamish’s vigorous, even brutish, physicality, the director compensates in flares of more propulsive and feverish filmmaking, as when Hamish and Evan lose themselves in dancing to electronic music as storming lights wash over them with nightmarish potency.

Campbell-Hughes herself plays the mother of the deceased adolescent in small, angry appearances — one of the only two female characters on screen. Similar to how Jane Campion took on the cowboy macho mythos via Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank in “The Power of the Dog,” Campbell-Hughes approaches her male protagonist with an interest in the layers that construct his image of self, and the psychological repercussions of being confronted with the façade that doesn’t match what’s underneath.

From the brief conversations Hamish has with his father (an understatedly vicious Claes Bang), one can infer this family has always pushed aside all uncomfortable sentiments to preserve the status quo. Dad refuses to validate Hamish’s conflicted, chaotic thoughts, and demands he buries them in the sleepy locale and move on.

Conversely, the restrictive precepts that dictate how men manifest emotions don’t apply to Evan and his group of friends, often known in Ireland as “boy racers,” who aimlessly speed down the empty roads. One might even say they feel too much. One hypnotic scene shows them practicing a dance routine to an instrumental version of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” without an ounce of self-consciousness. While hanging out with this younger generation, there’s a transfusion of an almost animalistic energy into Hamish.

What could be misconstrued as inappropriately homoerotic is more intense than any carnal attraction, a brotherhood in restlessness. Hamish could have easily been Evan. This communion doesn’t respond to a generational divide, but feels mythically connected to the soil, to the air, to the open spaces still fully untamed.

With his bare chest to the wind and in tears, Jarvis (also great in the recent “The Evening Hour”) conveys the image of a tender barbarian, incapable of reigning in all that burdens him. It’s a full-bodied performance that begins with the raw physicality of a bruised body and mutates into a tarnished spirit incapable of grappling with it all. Mesmerizing and terrifying, Jarvis ravages through the screen as a man who has just discovered what it really means to experience the range of human emotion to its full extent. It’s a performance for the ages that warrants attention.

An impressively assured Mannion holds his ground, interpreting Evan with subtly and a soft-spoken demeanor that contrasts with Hamish’s more overt ferocity. There’s still an inherent recklessness to him, but like a superhero who has learned to control his powers, Mannion plays Evan as the holder of a wisdom his counterpart still lacks.

For all its merits, Campbell-Hughes’ screenplay could benefit from more background on who Hamish was before he arrived on the island nation, and how the disconnect with his mother’s origins may have inadvertently affected him before. Even if intentionally, we perceive him as an enigma built from impulses. Still, “It Is In Us All,” tongue-tied title and all, tries to touch the essence of the unexplainable voraciousness of being alive, of truly giving in to the experience of our flawed condition — and it gets damn near close to it.

Grade: B+

“Is Is in Us All” premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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