Unwanted and unseen describes the two primary characters of writer-director Antonia Campbell-Hughes’ audacious feature-length debut, It Is in Us All. Repressed yet complacent, Hamish (Cosmo Jarvis) is a young businessman who, by all appearances, is content living in a perpetual state of isolation. Evan (Rhys Mannion) appears to be a mischievous, devil-may-care 17-year-old living in the moment. Their paths cross following a tragedy.
The sedate drama is structured as an unusual and moody character study of Hamish, a man of few words. He’s on his way from London to his ancestral homeland of Donegal, Ireland, to see the house left for him by his late aunt. In the introductory scene, Hamish refuses to participate in frivolous chatter with an affable rental car employee (Pauline Hutton). The employee likes his name and engages in flirtatious behavior, but he isn’t having any of it, sternly asking, “What are you doing?” The awkwardness stings harshly as the spirited employee goes on to avoid his flinty gaze.
It Is In Us All then picks up with Hamish driving on a vacant road through a secluded, hilly part of Ireland. Director of photography Piers McGrail coats the majestic scenery somberly, orchestrating faintly lit shots with off-center framing. There are prolonged shots of the lead driving while parts of his face are concealed, establishing him as a mysterious figure from the start. And then, suddenly, a car drives head-on into Hamish. The wreckage is only seen from a distance, which is appropriate considering the characters keep their emotions at a distance.
“…Hamish remembers somebody different driving that night, Evan, who he sees again…”
Hamish wakes up in the hospital with a broken arm and several bruises. The responsible party was said to be 15-year-old Callum (Altan McDermott), who died in the accident. But Hamish remembers somebody different driving that night, Evan, who he sees again at Callum’s funeral service. Hamish keeps Evan’s secret for reasons not totally known to him or the viewer. But one could surmise a strange connection between the two as they comfortably interact like they’ve known each other for years. It’s as if their near-death experience brought them together.
Their dynamic, which is at the center of It Is In Us All, is weird and uneasy, especially since Evan develops a crush on Hamish, although he doesn’t feel the same. Through this odd relationship, Campbell-Hughes examines how these men are fearful of being vulnerable, feeling alive, and being truthful to others and themselves. What exists in them that is in us all exactly? Perhaps the propensity to implode or the pent-up desire to give in to death and uncertainty when hopelessness prevails. This drama is intriguingly sober. Moreover, there’s strong familial tension nurtured by Hamish’s revisiting his deceased mother’s past, which leads to a stirring phone call conversation that sheds more light on the man’s emotional distress.
Jarvis gives a splendidly subdued performance. He’s deceptively stoic in that his portrayal is physically and emotionally delicate. His eyes, expressing sorrow and disdain, paints a picture of a man not only in an isolated state but in an irritated and heartbroken state, spurred by trauma and existential anxiety. There’s a scene where Hamish must power through the physical pain, and the actor makes you feel every painful movement with every visceral screech. Mannion holds his own against Jarvis, but his character is sadly underwritten, sometimes coming across as a piteous figure designed to remind Jarvis about the virtues of being young while never fully coming to fruition as a troubled character.
With It Is in Us All, Campbell-Hughes proves herself to be a talented new filmmaker. While her intentions aren’t always lucid, her feature debut is undeniably unique. It functions well as an exceptionally dour deconstruction of masculinity, suicide, and death.
"…Jarvis gives a splendidly subdued performance..."