All My Friends Hate Me, the new dark comedy movie from the clearly aberrant but brilliant minds of Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton, is a difficult film to categorise. It tells the story of Pete (Stourton), a young man who travels to a remote country home to celebrate his birthday with his old uni mates.
What should be a delightful trip down memory lane, however, becomes something far darker when his immature old friends invite a strange local man from “down the pub” to the party. As the weekend sours, the atmosphere changes, and Pete’s growing sense of paranoia leaves him questioning whether his friends really like him or if this whole trip isn’t some horrible set-up.
Toe-curlingly awkward, uproariously funny, and surprisingly scary all at the same time, All My Friends Hate Me defies easy classification. If pushed, you could describe it as the bastard child of The Wicker Man, The Office (UK version), and The Inbetweeners. It’s a strange comparison, we know, but one that delighted Palmer and Stourton when we sat down with them ahead of the film’s release on June 10, although they admitted they had a different cinematic muse.
“You know, those are all things that we feel very lucky to be compared to,” said Stourton. “I think it does have those influences, but what we were drawing on was Meet the Parents. We wanted to have broad comedic references woven into it, but – and this explains your suggestion of The Wicker Man – then deliver them in a much darker way. Imagine if what was happening to Ben Stiller wasn’t funny. It was like making him die on the inside. It was kind of the stakes of what was happening felt like a horror film.”
Basically, Palmer and Stourton wanted to make a film about social anxiety, but let’s rewind slightly. Where did they get such a strange idea? Well, like all the best brainwaves, it was born after a few drinks, specifically wedding drinks.
“I was invited to a wedding by some old uni friends who I’d drifted apart from a bit,” Stourton explained. “I had been out the night before and was feeling fragile. For some reason, I got into a spiral in my own head. I became convinced that they’d invited me as a joke, and during the speech, I was going to be outed.”
“It was this kind of weird, waking nightmare scenario,” Stourton continued. “I recounted it to [Palmer], who pointed out how narcissistic it was to be sort of making someone else’s big day all about me. But it also felt like a kind of cool premise for a film that seemed to tap into a kind of feeling, that felt universal, about ‘fun events’ that you can potentially feel oddly anxious about.”
“Taken at face value, it’s a really genuinely horrible sort of thing to experience, the idea of everyone turning around and laughing at you. It feels like a nightmare,” Palmer interjected. “But at the same time, looking at it from the third person, Tom’s experience actually seems very funny and narcissistic. That’s when we really started to get into this idea of what that feeling was and how it can dart between something deeply funny and something deeply terrifying at the same time.”
That feeling of social anxiety was something the pair were really keen to tap into while making the film. They describe it as the empty feeling you have after a heavy night out and realise no one has messaged you. That icy stab in the pit of your stomach where you desperately try and remember if you upset someone, or said something stupid that can only be relieved by a text from a friend saying, ‘good night last night’.
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Palmer and Stourton found this was a strangely universal experience a lot of people had. “When we started sharing the script around, we realised there were just so many people that would read it and say, ‘this describes a weekend I’ve had’, or ‘that is my worst fear'”, Palmer laughed. “That’s when we realised we were tapping into something that was shared by a lot of us.”
“The whole film is sort of supposed to be that two blue ticks on WhatsApp, no answer feeling,” Stourton said. “It was kind of like that was our anchor for every scene; we thought if we can just recreate whatever that is. It’s gonna feel relevant.”
I can say with no reluctance that the pair has expertly tapped into that queasy anxiety that you’re not quite as well-liked by your friends as you might wish. Through the film, we see Pete slowly unravel as he ironically finds himself isolated despite being surrounded by those who are supposed to be his closest friends.
In many ways, Pete is like Jack Torrance in The Shining, trapped in The Overlook with only the ghosts for company. But while Pete may not literally be alone, he finds himself haunted by his old friends who won’t let the person he was in his late teens rest. As the weekend goes on, we learn more and more about Pete’s university escapades, and it becomes clear why he’d rather leave his past life dead and buried.
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Again, that uncomfortableness about being reminded about the person you used to be is something quite universal – and there’s not a person alive who wants to meet the teenage version of themselves – yet setting the film in England gives the film another edge. Pete’s clearly middle class, and while the university he attended is never named, it’s obviously meant to be a prestigious school. All of this gives him another chip on his shoulder.
“Pete sets himself up for a fall by presenting himself in a different way from how he is,” Palmer explained. “I think that kind of sense of guilt and paranoia that’s gonna be outed is a strong driving force for his character.”
“It’s an interesting one,” says Stourton. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because, arguably, the more self-reflective you are about being privileged, that in itself is kind of a self-centred thing that speaks of privilege quite a lot. And then, by doing it more, you’re sort of feeding the anxiety that’s behind it. I think Pete is trapped in that cycle, basically.”
Without spoiling anything, the weekend inevitably ends in disaster for Pete, but rather appropriately for a film that walks the line between horror and comedy, you’re left wondering if you should feel sorry for the birthday boy.
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For Stourton, there are no easy answers for this, “I don’t think Pete deserves a life of not knowing where he stands with people,” he says. “But you know, there is something a little bit unsympathetic about someone who is so unable to admit who they really are.”
Palmer, meanwhile, believes this question is almost the entire point of the film, “Pete’s trying to be better, and I think it would be wrong if we weren’t at least sympathetic of that, but yeah, we hoping that that is the kind of thing people are debating on their way out.”
If you want to make your own mind up, you can check out All My Friends Hate Me when it hits cinemas on June 10.