An excruciatingly funny skewering of British upper-class millennial anxiety, All My Friends Hate Me sees Pete head to his old university pal’s large country mansion for his own birthday bash. What follows is a reunion wracked with paranoia, social angst and class guilt, the British humour and sensibility of a Richard Curtis comedy colliding with the psychological horror of The Shining (1980).
As the weekend continues, Pete slowly descends into a self-made hell, wracked by envy of working-class interloper and life-of-the-party Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), while living in fear of what dark secrets his friends will reveal to his long-term partner.
The lethal comic script is the work of comedy duo Totally Tom (Tom Stourton, who also plays Pete, and Tom Palmer), whom debut feature director Andrew Gaynord initially met through mutual friend and comedian Daniel Simonsen. He’d go on to direct two of Totally Tom’s standup shows.
Comedy is where Gaynord got his first break, with a two-minute short film he entered into the Myspace awards. It didn’t win, but it got him to the final, with his follow-up grabbing the attention of The Office producer Ash Atalla and Friday Night Dinner creator Robert Popper – both of whom he worked with on the BAFTA-winning series Stath Lets Flats (2018-).
Over the last decade, Gaynord has split his time between the UK and US, working on pilots and filming comedy shows Haters Back Off! (2016) and The Characters (2016). He’s worked with John Early, Lauren Lapkus and Tim Robinson – Robinson being the comedy genius behind cult Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave (2019-). Some of that show’s delight in picking apart awkward interactions and fragile masculinity through absurd and surreal humour has found its way into Gaynord’s new film.
You agreed to make All My Friends Hate Me over a pint with Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer. What was it you liked about their screenplay?
I’ll rewind a bit and give you the broader context. I was in the US doing some episodic television directing when I was visited by Jamie Demetriou [creator of Stath Lets Flats]. I spent a lot of time with him in LA, and when he left I was very sad. I missed being creative with my friends back in England. I wanted to go back and work with the people I’d come up with over the past 10 years. I really wanted to shine a light on how brilliant they all are.
The Toms had sent me the screenplay for All My Friends Hate Me a year before, but it was quite a different script at that point. It was more of a bloodbath, and it wasn’t really my thing. I told them I’d be more into it if it was cerebral or more tethered to reality. I loved the new script, and it had some overlapping themes with my own personal life, especially regarding social anxiety. I was scared to make it, because it’s a film made by a bunch of funny white guys, and I thought now is not the time for that maybe.
Totally Tom mentioned that Festen (1998) and the Dogme 95 movement were an influence on this film. Do you have a filmmaking manifesto or any obstructions or rules you like to set yourself?
I don’t have obstructions or rules, but I was really drawn to doing something set in one location. That’s a great creative limitation, especially if you don’t have a lot of money, and especially at a house like [Sidbury Manor]. Being confined to one space is great for a horror film. Pete’s a guy suffering from anxiety and paranoia, so that in itself can make you feel quite claustrophobic.
In terms of references, the thing I watched most closely for the film was Force Majeure (2014). The performance style is amazing; it gets a lot of laughs borne out of tragedy and suffering. It’s just one incident exploded for the entire running time. There is definitely some crossover there with our film, in that Pete’s an overthinker. Funny Games (1997) would be another one: it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind while I was actually making it, but, watching the film now, the messing with the audience and wrong-footing them aspect comes from that.
Playing with Pete’s anxiety is a major factor in why the film is so excruciating, as you watch him question his privilege and why he’s even friends with these people. How did you approach creating that atmosphere of tension?
At his core, Pete is a guy who is having an identity crisis. He has class guilt and privilege guilt and wears it quite heavily. He’s obviously done some shit in the past that he’s not proud of and would like to escape from. He’s fled the country to be a refugee worker and tried to escape who he is, but on returning 10 years later and being united with these friends he’s really trying to project his altruism. But in reality, he’s an inauthentic guy who’s trying really hard to be liked.
On a practical level it was very much about shooting it from Pete’s point of view, sucking the audience into his head so they can hear those cogs turning, and see his eyes watch things. For comedic purposes I’d often snap back and let the audience see the reality of the situation, which is that there aren’t that many stakes here and he’s really just a guy beating himself up. I would play with it being his point of view and then open it out to reality.
It’s unsettling to watch, and the score by Joe Robbins, Will Lowes and Tom Palmer heightens the paranoia to sinister levels.
Those guys had made the score before we actually filmed. Tom Stourton and those guys had lots of conversations about how to convey that feeling of anxiety. When I asked Tom about how he wrote it, he said he just wanted to put a feeling on paper, so that was a good way into it.
What we did stumble upon, and one of the things which was an idea of mine, was when Pete is doing up his buttons in the mirror and this foreboding score comes in – that felt key to me. It felt fun. A guy overthinking whether he should do his top button up… something as small as that with a heavy or playful score is sinister.
The comedy really works among all the paranoia and horror. What is it about comedy that excites you?
It can lift you out of a crap place. There’s a real truth if you can share a laugh with someone. I feel very connected to humanity when I can sincerely laugh at something. A lot of my favourite comedies convert sorrow or pain into laughter, and I’m really interested in that mixture. This film is my first step towards more of the sort of thing I would actually watch. It is comedic, but it is also more grounded in reality and relates to identity crisis and pain. That’s what I’m interested in doing in the future. Just yesterday I saw The Worst Person in the World (2021) and honestly that’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I also loved Red Rocket (2021), and I love Sean Baker.
So, you’re interested in making portraits of flawed or maybe terrible human beings?
You crystallising it like that sounds exactly right. I’d love to make more things along that line on varying scales.