All My Friends Are Dead (2020)
★ / ★★★★
Jan Belcl’s directorial debut is supposed to be a comedy, but it does not inspire laughter, a few chuckles, a single smile, or even a passing thought that there is cleverness, urgency, or passion propelling the screenplay. One gets the impression that the writer-director had one idea—a gimmick—and its foundation are clichés of people in their early twenties—from sexual repression due to religion, closet homosexuals, and desperate virgins with no game to recovering drug addicts, sex-crazed bimbos, and MILFs—but not a single one proves to be unexpected or rings true. This is a movie filled with busyness lacking a specific angle of attack. And so nothing funny transpires on screen. The joke, I suppose, is on the folks who chose to sit through it.
The gimmick: We learn in the opening scene that everyone—with the exception of one—ended up dead at a New Year’s Eve house party. We are introduced to an inspector (Adam Woronowicz), who appears to be over his job, and a junior inspector with a weak stomach (Michal Meyer). But their names do not matter because we never see them again until the final scene and they do not impact the story in any way. In fact, there is no story to be had. Once the timeline rewinds to about an hour or two before midnight, we simply follow cardboard cutouts doing would-be shocking things like engaging in threesomes, doing drugs, and committing infidelity.
“But why is that interesting?” is a question I wanted to ask Belcl. It would have been a different matter entirely were the characters written with real thought, substance, or empathy. For instance, there is an extended sequence where we simply listen in on various subjects making small talk. But the dialogue is dead dull compounded with flat, uninspired camerawork. Not for one second do we believe that the characters have lives outside of this house of (eventual) murder. There is nothing wrong with partying and making mistakes, but viewers must be given reasons why characters are worth following outside of behavior. A mediocre episode of “Gossip Girl” commands more intrigue and drama than what’s at offer here.
But perhaps emptiness was the point and so I wondered if it was supposed to be a satire. After all, it employs situational exaggeration and extreme behavior to wring out any semblance of entertainment. But a satire of what? House parties? Privileged people creating problems out of nothing to feel as though their lives have meaning in some way? Is it a critique of Polish culture homogeneity? The hell that is the holidays? But if we have to ask, then that’s a sign that it is ineffective; it doesn’t matter if it is a satire or a massive miscalculation.
All the friends are dead and so is the screenplay. The body count may be high, but its imagination is twelve feet under. Here are better ways to spend a hundred minutes: playing with your dog, eating donuts while reading up on current events, trolling fascists on Twitter, dancing to your favorite songs in the living room, watering your garden… Make use of your time rather than wasting it on this… whatever this is.