Due to the widespread popularity of horror films in the age of streaming, many artists have been attempting to break out of the formulaic routines that have become uninspired and stale. Within the context of this push for reconceptualising horror, All My Friends Hate Me comes across as a refreshingly bizarre take on the genre.
Directed by Andrew Gaynord, the premise of this new British horror comedy is quite simple: a social worker named Pete (Tom Stourton) is invited to his friend’s country estate because all his old mates from university want to celebrate his 31st birthday even though they had been drifting apart for a while.
Although that sounds like a highly clichéd celebratory party flick involving intolerable assholes, All My Friends Hate Me is far from that. It conducts an incisive psychological analysis of Pete – a pathetically insecure man who becomes paranoid about the possibility that he has been invited to the party out of spite.
The film was co-written by the lead – Stourton – who explained the central theme in an interview: “Going into an environment where you’re surrounded by mates, and feeling like there’s some level of hostility. And the idea that you could have a horror film that was all in someone’s head felt like a good horror-comedy mix.”
It was actually based on Stourton’s own experiences at a wedding where he had been invited by old friends who had lost contact with him and he kept fearing that he was going to be humiliated by everyone. This social anxiety has always formed a major part of British humour and All My Friends Hate Me manages to take it to its logical conclusion – horror.
Co-writer Tom Palmer added: “That’s definitely part of the fun with the whole film, just playing with Pete’s subjective perception of everything. Does it all boil down to him just being a completely narcissistic, overprivileged, self-obsessed man? Is that the reality? Is that the core message? Or is it just this idea of, well, what if actually for one day, and one party, all of those fears actually were true?”
Even though it has its flaws, All My Friends Hate Me is an effective cinematic experience because it creates a highly tense, uncanny and uncomfortable space within which Pete tries to find some sort of objective truth in reference to his paranoid delusions. He sets out to expose a massive conspiracy against him but he ends up exposing himself.
One of the stand-out performances belongs to Dustin Demri-Burns who is brilliant as Harry, a seemingly eccentric and funny local who gets on Pete’s nerves. Throughout the entire film, we witness his descent into insanity as he convinces himself that Harry is actually a homeless psychopath who is determined to turn his friends against him.
More than anything else, this is a portrait of a neurotic man who tries to cover up the crimes of his past by reminding everyone that he works with refugees but it is painfully clear that he knows he is completely empty. That’s where the real horror comes from, the inevitable realisation that we all have the potential to turn into Pete.