This desolate tale of urban versus rural masculinity set in a hauntingly beautiful Donegal landscape doesn’t dig deep enough, and cannot be saved by the outstanding performances delivered by Cosmo Jarvis and Rhys Mannion.
It Is In Us All is what director Antonia Campbell-Hughes calls a “science fiction in a pastoral setting,” a parable of masculinity induced by a near fatal traffic collision, and inspired by the alien landscapes of Donegal. The two survivors are united in morbid intimacy through their shared proximity to death. Ultimately though, the film fails to make good on its promise to interrogate themes of masculinity, and winds up feeling underwritten and insubstantial.
The film revolves around Hamish (Cosmo Jarvis), a London urbanite businessman who makes the pilgrimage to rural Donegal to visit the house his aunt left him before selling it on. Underneath this pretence is a disguised longing to return to the place where his late mother grew up, to try and understand her, to comprehend her loss, and to feel close to her once again. On his way to the house, driving late at night on the dark country roads, he collides head-on with a car full of boy racers, one of whom, fifteen year old Callum, is killed. Wounded and pitiable, emasculated in the rural landscape without any transport, Hamish is drawn into a strange, intense relationship with the driver of the other car, seventeen year old Evan (Ryhs Mannion).
As Hamish’s injuries heal and he is grounded in the remote seaside town, his relationship with Evan escalates dangerously in a haze of fraternity, adrenaline, and eroticism. Hamish becomes increasingly vulnerable, unstable, and desperate to belong, a deterioration that is exacerbated by frequent Skype calls with his cartoonishly evil British father, played by an almost unrecognizable Claes Bang. Out of all the characters, Hamish alone is compelling, infused with a depth that might not have manifested from the written page if not for a remarkable performance by Jarvis. Broken, pitiable and pathetic, he skulks and staggers around his empty ancestral home, sleeping without sheets, barely eating, and tending to his serious wounds with a disregard for his personal safety that reveals his lack of self-worth.
Hamish’s lack of identity and urge to seek his absent mother in the rural landscape is exploited somewhat by Evan, who is devastated by the loss of his friend. He has developed a dangerous philosophy towards death as a way of finding meaning in his quiet community and in the absence of Callum. But his inner life ends there. Evan is notably under-developed, and isn’t given much of a look in beyond acting as a countryside siren for death, adrenaline, and an ambiguous and problematic sexuality given his age that goes unexplored during the run-time. The character of Cara, the dead boy’s mother, is played by director Antonia herself, but also emerges as thin and under-written.
Antonia reveals in a Q&A after the film’s UK premiere that the “it” that is in us all turns out not to be the male death drive as originally anticipated, but some vague ‘vitality’ that she believes we only encounter on the edge between terror and true beauty. This vitality, apparently, is only achieved when you either experience trauma or teeter on the edge of mortality. It’s a weirdly adolescent and borderline dangerous outlook following in the footsteps of generations of poets that suggest pain and trauma are not only beautiful, but experiencing these things is the only way to truly feel alive. However we feel about this message, it isn’t articulated through the film, and audiences may find themselves scratching their heads in the closing reels.
There are also several strange directorial decisions: the all-important moment where Hamish and Evan lock eyes before the crash is never shown, along with several other pivotal moments, but we get to see an extended TikTok dance performed by Evan and his friends around the campfire. The concept is promising, the performances are outstanding, and there are several beautiful cinematic moments by director of photography Piers McGrail. Antonia attempts to celebrate the vitality of Irish men, but ultimately, for a film that promises to be so tender, so angry, so intense and so raw, it leaves the audience cold and alienated. It Is In Us All isn’t properly paced, and while it winds up feeling much longer than it’s 90 minute run time, the film spends very little time getting to know Hamish and Evan, and ultimately doesn’t do the potential of the characters justice.
It Is In Us All is frustrating mainly because it represents a missed opportunity—an opportunity to comment meaningfully about what contemporary masculinity does to the mental state of our men, a chance to address the effects of rural isolation on young people in Donegal, and the state of Irish/English relationships. Above all, it’s a waste of a wonderful premise and two very strong performances. It would not have been quite so disappointing if it didn’t have such potential.
Words by Eli Dolliver
This film was screened as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. You can find the rest of our coverage here.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.