The last few years have seen an uptick in the number of genre films directed by women, and it’s been interesting to see the impact of that on such a traditionally male-dominated field. Directed by Irish-born actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes, It Is In Us All, which had its world premiere in the Narrative Feature lineup at SXSW, is one of the strangest yet: a gore-free body horror that manages to be completely unnerving without conforming to any of the usual expectations that come with the territory. A very rough comparison would be David Cronenberg’s 1996 psychodrama Crash (or, more specifically, the much darker source novel by J.G. Ballard), but the sense of dread here is much less tangible, even though car accidents feature prominently.
The lead is Hamish Considine (Cosmo Jarvis), a worldly London creative who arrives in Donegal to settle his late aunt’s estate, having inherited her home. This is his mother’s old town, but she died a long time ago and his connection with his roots is tenuous at best. On the long drive, night falls, and he calls his estranged father, who is based in Hong Kong. Out of nowhere, another car appears, and Hamish wakes up in hospital with a broken arm and no memory of what happened. It transpires that he was hit by a car being joyridden by two teenagers, Callum, 15, and his passenger Evan, 17. Callum is dead, and when Hamish meets Evan (Rhys Mannion) he recognizes him as the real driver on the night of the crash. The two develop an unlikely and somewhat unhealthy friendship, much to the fury of Callum’s suspicious mother (Campbell-Hughes).
This is about as much plot as you’re likely to get from this existential thriller, which rests squarely on Jarvis’ shoulders. Since his breakout performance in Lady Macbeth (2016), he’s proven himself as a consistently solid actor and a formidable screen presence, notably in 2019’s Calm With Horses, in which he played a gangster’s henchman having an existential crisis. His work here suggests there are more depths to him that are still to be tapped; as Hamish, he is a walking paradox, arrogant and aloof but almost childlike underneath the surface. It is this quality the hedonistic Evan unlocks, encouraging Hamish to unravel, like the devil on his shoulder, and Hamish’s mental disintegration is the real, if sometimes frustratingly abstract, subject of the film.
It’s an incredibly audacious thing to attempt, and, for those up for the challenge, it largely works. Piers McGrail’s cinematography is key here, whether shooting in atmospheric wide shots or impressionistic closeups. Tom Furse’s score similarly manages to evoke Angelo Badalamenti without ever becoming derivatively Lynchian, which is quite an achievement in itself. And as director, Campbell-Hughes is a surprisingly confident first-timer, creating a spellbinding, dreamlike world that sometimes pushes the boundaries of credibility (Jarvis’ jarringly slow, mannered drawl is a good case in point). As an actor herself, she brings out the best in her cast, and newcomer Mannion is outstanding as the troubled Evan, whose relationship with Hamish transcends homoeroticism to become something way more strange and primal.
There are some flaws, notably in the fact that there will be more subtext than text for many viewers, but for arthouse audiences and festivalgoers there is a lot to chew on here, and some indelible images that linger in the mind. And while many of its mysteries go unsolved, there is a satisfying resolution: although the film is perhaps a little obvious in its final reveal, Campbell-Hughes does a good job of articulating the terrifying but seductive “it” that is, indeed, in all of us.
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