Here’s a British comedy that wants to screw with your head. Thirtysomething film-makers Andrew Gaynord, Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer have dubbed their project “evil Richard Curtis”. Let me expand on that catchy label: if you view Richard Curtis movies as evil, you’ll love this.
The less you know about the plot, the more shaken and stirred you’ll feel by the end. But, dammit, you need a few facts.
Our protagonist is Pete (Stourton). A polite, smiley guy with floppy-hair, Pete’s on the verge of turning 31 and planning to propose to his warm, witty Northern girlfriend, Sonia (Charly Clive). She’s never met Pete’s old college chums George, Archie, Fig and Claire (Joshua McGuire, Graham Dickson, Georgina Campbell and Antonia Clarke). The plan is for everyone to converge at George’s ancestral Devon home for Pete’s birthday, but Sonia is detained in London, so he arrives on his lonesome. By the time he goes to bed, he’s a wreck. What upsets Pete the most is the presence of supposedly random guest, Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a garrulous prole who takes delight in making the birthday boy look like a smug git. Is Harry out for Pete’s blood and if so, why?
Stourton (who co-wrote the script with Palmer) is freakishly talented. In terms of the humour, no concessions are made to a non-British audience. If you’re not familiar with the slur “pikey”, a crucial exchange between Pete and Harry will whizz over your head. We cringe with Pete and at him. After imbibing an unwise amount of cocaine, Pete has an epiphany about who he wants as his best man. Later, he’s forced to wield a gun. These bits are so funny you may lose control of your bladder. But when the mood darkens, the shift feels natural. Where does sloppy behaviour end and sadism begin? Somehow, magically, Stourton and Palmer mark the spot.
The supporting cast are nimble, with Dickson, Clarke and Demri-Burns especially good at wrong-footing us. Most impressive of all, though, is Christopher Fairbank as grizzled estate manger, Norman, who, sometimes within the same second, radiates menace and insouciance. Fairbank’s been around forever, but has yet to be recognised as a national treasure. Perhaps channelling his frustration, he steals scene after scene.
The penultimate set-piece is surreal. The only thing weirder would be the sight of Louis Theroux being roasted (literally or metaphorically) by Scientologists. A week after the screening, my jaw is still on the floor. This mordant psychodrama tweaks the well-worn idea that if you scratch a liberal, a fascist bleeds. It’s a meditation on hate, actually. Cult status awaits.
94mins, cert 15
In cinemas from June 10