Imagine this: you’ve just been invited to the country to celebrate your birthday. All of your friends from college will be there and you haven’t seen them in a while—but when you arrive, everyone is acting a little different than how you remembered. The vibes are so off that you start to second-guess whether this posh university crew even likes you at all, or if, in fact, they just might...hate you?
That’s the setup for All My Friends Hate Me, a film directed by Andrew Gaynor and co-written by Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton, with the latter starring in the main role of Pete, the poor bloke who travels to a university mate’s mansion in the English countryside to see his friends for the first time in years and celebrate his own birthday.
It’s a cringe comedy-horror that ratchets up the anxiety felt by Pete as he repeatedly runs into awkward scenarios, starting with the gang’s invitation of a rakish stranger into Pete’s birthday party, and seems to suffer from the most horrible foot-in-mouth syndrome one would never hope to experience. With references to horror films by Michael Haneke and Jordan Peele, the idea for the script started germinating when Stourton attended a wedding between “two old uni mates.” He hadn’t seen them for a while and was surprised they invited him to witness their nuptials, and grew increasingly paranoid during the ceremony that his invite was sent as a joke. He worried that “during the speeches, at the end of the wedding, the groom was going to say, ‘Oh, and guess what, Tom Stourton thought that we actually meant to invite him. Isn't that funny?’ That's not what happened and I feel guilty about how sort of self-absorbed I was being,” he says.
Betrayed by his own brain, Stourton began to bounce ideas off of Palmer about “a friendly environment that feels hostile” riffing until they had something that hinged upon the theme of “the extent to which your own something in your own head could reach the stakes of a horror film.”
All My Friends Hate Me is their first feature film together, but Palmer and Stourton have been best buds ever since they met at boarding school and shared a comedy icon: Sasha Baron Cohen as Ali G, the performer’s satirical “chav” character who spoofs those who culturally appropriate hip hop and British Jamaican culture. “I think it was just a really lame scenario where two 13-year-old boys were trying to out quote each other on a comedy,” Stourton remembers. When they went to university, they formed a duo and started performing comedy gigs in pubs and called themselves Totally Tom, satirizing the posh world they came from. “In our last year we wrote a really silly mockumentary that we shot ourselves on a very amateur camera,” Palmer tells me. Inspired by Stourton’s attempt to become a DJ, the film “was about a sad, lonely, privileged student of this university who was trying to put on a big techno-night and it was all a complete disaster.”
Palmer and Stourton’s film is now playing in theaters and will be on demand starting March 25, but it first debuted at Tribeca Film Festival in 2020 to positive reviews, with one critic even telling Stourton that All My Friends Hate Me reminded him of something that would’ve been created by “an evil Richard Curtis.” It got a laugh out of the two at the time, but partially because that was, in a way, their intention with the film. All My Friends Hate Me touches on some near-universally relatable experiences—meeting up with old friends, entering your thirties, reassessing your values and confronting your privileges, wondering if everyone hates you because they didn’t text you back in time or responded cryptically—with a very English cast in a very English context.
“We wanted this idea that it's like all of the structures and the devices of something quite frothy and friendly and British, but actually just being like, what if this was actually played out as a horror? What if this was played out for real and the comedy wasn't so funny?” Palmer explains. For Stourton, he relished in “a good opportunity to sort of subvert some English stereotyping” with his role as Pete. “I think the Richard Curtis stereotype is the bumbling, charming Englishman who manages to come up roses eventually. And it was fun to just be like, no, these are some slightly despicable English people, or slightly more flawed,” he says.
All My Friends Hate Me slowly builds up the panic and dread until it’s almost completely unbearable, landing with a much-deserved cathartic moment at the end. When Palmer and Stourton reunite again for another film, they hope to give a wedding the same treatment as Pete’s fateful birthday party—an “anti-wedding” movie for the social anxiety era just might be exactly what we need.