#AMFAD All My Friends Are Dead

#AMFAD: All My Friends Are Dead (2024)

#AMFAD: All My Friends Are Dead had its world première at Tribeca 2024, 8 June, and will be released in select theatres, on demand and on digital from 2 August. 

Like Sarah Pirozek’s #Like (2019), Cho Il Hyung’s #Alive (#Saraitda, 2020) and Travis Bible’s #chadgetstheaxe (2023), the title of Marcus Dunstan’s feature comes with its own hashtag, clueing the viewer into its setting in a world of social media. While #AMFAD might be read as an assertion of trendiness (“am fad”), a subtitle unequivocally reveals (and decodes) its status as both anagram and cry for help (“all my friends are dead”), while also hinting that, in the massacre to come, there will be one survivor – a classic, or perhaps not so classic, final girl

Here that would appear to be Sarah (Jade Pettyjohn), a resourceful yet virginal introvert invited along by a close-knit group of former high school and now college friends on their road trip to a weekend at the music festival Karmapalooza – not because she is in any way a part of their clique, but rather because they need a driver. As an outsider, she is our cicerone into the world of über influencer Mona (Jennifer Ens), aspiring influencer Liv (Ali Fumiko Whitney), live-streaming lothario L.B. (Julian Haig), stoner guy Guy (Jack Doupe-Smith), slacker Will (Justin Derickson) and geeky good-guy Aaron (Cardi Wong) – who, though himself vetoed by the others from coming along unless he is willing to steal some pills for them from the chemist where he works, is Sarah’s link to the group owing to his cute but compulsive crush on her. 

As the name might suggest, Karmapalooza has its own cyclical history. For twenty years ago, a killing spree left seven partying co-eds dead, their corpses carefully posed to suggest the capital vices of Christian teaching – or at least of David Fincher’s Se7en (1995). Though never caught, the so-called Seven Deadly Sins Killer (or ‘SDSK’) became, for a while, a viral sensation, inspiring endless online speculation as well as a popular ‘true crime’ podcast, teleseries and even a horror film “from producer Juan Gulager” (who sounds suspiciously like the director John Gulager with whom Dunstan had his first feature writing gig on Feast, 2005). Meanwhile Mona and co. have their own, more recent shadowy history with the death, just two years earlier, of their mutual friend Colette Campbell (Jojo Siwa). 

So now in 2024, two decades after the SDSK’s unsolved atrocities, Karmapalooza is back for the first time, and with it a frenzy of media chatter about the possible return of the killer. Meanwhile our seven blithely unconcerned co-eds – soon to be eight as lovesick Aaron catches up with them – are at risk of never even making it to the festival as a shredded tyre puts their van out of action, leading to both a run-in with surprisingly friendly local cop Officer Shaw (Michaela Russell) and the realisation that they will have to stay overnight in the large yet suspiciously cheap accommodation that they have found nearby through an internet holiday rental website known (with hilariously ominous ambiguity) as ‘StayAway’. As they take selfies, videos and drugs in this spacious temporary home, while hooking up, back-stabbing each other, lying and exhibiting all the behaviours that the SDSK had previously punished, a masked figure monitors their every move from locked-off sections of the house, and soon starts killing them one by one in an ever more grotesquely staged fashion – even as Sarah tries to get to the bottom of what connects her to these seven terminally online sinners and to what they did two summers ago.

While #AMFAD: All My Friends Are Dead seems to be conforming to the model of a classic Halloween-style slasher, where promiscuousness is punished on ‘the night he came home’, in fact it is playing a more postmodern game with its inherited tropes, drawing its influence(r)s from Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) – only with a much greater willingness to kill its darlings – as well as from Jim Gallespie’s I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls (2017) and Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022). Jessica Sarah Flaum and Josh Sims’ screenplay introduces us to a set of fairly ordinary young adults, and quickly exposes and exaggerates their very worst characteristics (vapidity, treachery, vain self-absorption), to the point where viewers will be unsure how to distinguish killer and prey, and for whom exactly to be rooting.

“If you get stabbed, don’t post anything about it,” Mona’s oleaginous agent Slick Rick (Peter Giles) advises her over the phone, “victims are so played out” – and that kind of cynicism infects this film of poseurs and imposters, where even love itself is tainted, and where what this generation gets up to leaves even an old-school pattern killer outraged, indignant and offended. The ending of this sarky, savvy slaughter-thon leaves the door wide open to a clash-of-the-psychos sequel, with morality performed and postmodernised even further.

strap: Sin-icism: Marcus Dunstan’s sarky, savvy slasher sees the past catching up with some festival-bound, terminally online co-eds

© Anton Bitel