This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
I love a good Hollywood blockbuster or an English-speaking movie, but I’m also not a native, English speaker, so I’ve always been more open and willing to watch movies from all over the world; Netflix does not have a great record at bringing these movies to a wider audience, but they seem to be trying. All my friends are dead is the 2nd Polish, Netflix Original and it’s not good; it was a huge commercial success in their local market and this is the film debut of its writer/director/editor, but it has a lot of flaws (and some promising features) and I want to discuss them because it is clear that the crew is very talented and can go on to do great things with a bit more experience and focus.
The biggest and most consistent struggle the movie has to deal with is its tone. This is a book adaptation (I haven’t read the book and don’t know how it is handled there) and its about a New Year’s Eve party gone wrong – a dark comedy clearly inspired by the hilarity and tragedy of legends like the Coen Brothers. In their movies, the Coen Brothers rarely struggle with the consistency of their tone, because they make the impossible seem easy; they pick a tone that is going to be consistent and allow all the other bits to flow organically. For example, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a consistently goofy movie, but the darker elements are not forced in or toned down to fit the overall mood; there is comedy in tragedy and vice versa, and the best trait of writers like the Coen Brothers is how they can nail all the dramatic beats and comedic timing of both elements organically. All my friends are dead struggles with finding the right balance or the right tone for most of its duration; some scenes are pretty funny, others are dark and grim, but none feel connected or consistent and it all stops being about this absurd situation and starts showing its artificiality as a story written by someone for us to watch. An example of this is a sequence of scenes involving a couple, where Daniel asks Angelika to marry him in front of everyone and she rejects. She leaves and locks herself in a room where Daniel keeps insisting to tell him the reason why and she finally breaks down and lets him know why, in front of everyone. On their own, both scenes work pretty well; there is a set-up of Daniel’s unwillingness to listen and “inability” to perform to Angelika’s satisfaction, and Angelika’s growing anxiety of what her life might be if she accepts Daniel’s advances without confronting him first and without getting him to change his ways; they are both darkly comedic with the awkwardness of a public rejection and a public humiliation being the focus on both. What doesn’t work is that they follow each other and make both characters look like assholes and simultaneously the victims of each other’s flaws; there is no punchline to these scenes, there is growth but it comes in the worst way possible. Moreover, these two scenes highlight a real struggle for me, as an audience member; am I supposed to take this seriously? Should I see the absurdity of the situation as my que to digest the movie philosophically and laugh at the absurdity, or should I focus on the real-life awkwardness of an over-confident man publicly coming to terms with his failings and having his ego wounded? In Buster Scruggs, every vignette is ridiculous and provides a few good laughs as well as some interesting and meaningful allegories to digest. All my friends are dead has a scene where twins are having sex with a missionary in a room with a dead body, when one of the twins gives the body a mouthful of encouragement, and the killers – who were under the bed this whole time – simply get out and walk away; this isn’t representative of the whole movie, but it is representative of the dilemma the audience faces and how either choice results in a poor viewing experience.
That inconsistency plagues the entirety of the movie. For every funny scene with the French missionary (there are genuinely funny scenes) there is a dark and (almost) nihilistic scene where characters are treated like shit. There are a couple of features that could save this movie and, unfortunately, both also fail. Acting is pretty horrendous, with some exception being a glimpse of what this movie could have been, but are ultimately too little to justify the rest. Characterization could also save the movie, but these are some of the most one-note, stereotypical characters I have seen all year; they have one trait (at best two) that define their entire character and that is it for them. Some just get a “shock-value” treatment and die, never to be mentioned again, while others get some growth and some fun ideas, but mostly they are boring facades of ideas rather than actual representations of characteristics and personalities.
What these flaws result in is a boring movie, trying to be philosophical and fun, but ends up ringing hollow and missing the mark by a lot; the visuals don’t help either. I found the palette to be muted in how “grim” it tried to be with non-reds, while the reds were so saturated that it looked fake and stood out like a sore thumb; the intent was to give the movie a unique look that kept the perks of having popping colors and subdued backgrounds, but it failed miserably for me. Despite all this, there are good moments in the movie; the whole French Missionary character was genuinely funny and the idea of having a night where friends get together to celebrate, but end up conflicting with each other’s secrets and hidden desires to deadly effects is great – the execution is not there though.
All in all, I found All my friends are dead to be MEH; there are glimpses of a good storyteller (both visually and in writing), but most of the package simply is not good enough. I want Netflix to go after more international features, from a wider variety of countries and cultures, and I wish that the crew of this movie are given more chances to learn and polish (get it cause they from Poland!) their talents.