The protagonist of It Is In Us All (2022) embarks on a self-discovery journey, through which he’s pushed to the brink of mental stability when his car crashes badly, leaving a 15-year old as a casualty. Over the slick runtime, the tentacles of the narrative reach in various directions. But while gliding over the vast surface, director Antonia Campbell-Hughes fails to dive deeper to explore the most intriguing themes buried in the premise.
In the manner that Icelandic filmmakers do, where they often incorporate crude, otherworldly sights as monumental reflections of human solitude, director Antonia Campbell-Hughes deploys the aloof landscapes with a similar purpose in her mind. As captured with occasional evidence of photographic bliss of DP Piers McGrail, the picturesque Irish grasslands elicit unease that sets the ubiquitously ominous, if sleepy atmosphere. That’s a fitting setting for the protagonist of It Is In Us All (2022) – a flummoxed, confused individual called Hamish (Cosmo Jarvis).
One can easily see why we never get to watch Hamish in his natural habitat – the never-sleeping, ever-lively London. None of his prowess matters outside of the big city life. Daunting, well-dressed, and presenting himself with formidable confidence, Hamish arrives at rural Ireland armed with arrogance, and the laser-focused goal of selling the cottage he inherited. Essentially a quick drive down the memory lane – a hop-in hop-out – becomes dramatically different when the protagonist hits another car in the middle of an open, scenic route. In the manner of HBO’s Chernobyl (2019) and its purposefully mysterious opening episode, It Is In Us All (2022) provides scarce details of how the crash happened. A flash of lights, a sound of shattered glass. Once Hamish gains consciousness, left with a head fracture and a few bad bruises apart from crippling trauma, he learns that the kid driving the other car died. That’s what it seems, at least.
Once he leaves the hospital almost immediately, Hamish finally manages to arrive at the destination – an old cottage house that belonged to his mother’s sister. But unraveling the memories shut within the four walls transforms into a full-fledged mental breakdown, fueled by a nagging father who urges the son to wrap things up and return to London. Instead of a short drive, the stay stretches out.
That’s when Campbell-Hughes begins to fiddle with logic. In fact, finding logic in It Is In Us All (2022) – the characters in particular – might be a breakneck challenge because most of what Hamish does seems either senseless or even preposterous. One could call this the after-effect of the brain damage that the protagonist sustained, but the internalized, almost asphyxiating clench of emotions has two main sources.
One of them trails back to Hamish’s father (Claes Bang). The writer-director hints at the toxic father-son relationship with a failed call that levels Hamish with any other person trying to reach his dad. Almost unrecognizable behind pixelated screen view and a long beard, Claes Bang works with little time and scant character development, thus his detrimental impact on Hamish’s life seems more theoretical than factual.
As mentioned earlier, Hamish acts weirdly – due to the post-crash health symptoms, the rising tension between him and his father, and – on top of that all – a strange relationship he develops with a local boy Evan (Rhys Mannion), who apparently was in the car that day too, and made it without a single scar. The boy’s agenda starts mysteriously – he notices Hamish during his deceased friend’s funeral and begins to stalk the guy, creating an impression of a devil that will soon wrap the pale boyish hands around the victim’s neck. Amid the many awkward moments where Rhys Mannion and Cosmo Jarvis struggle to play the right chord for their characters, Evan’s playfulness begins to be flirty, sexual even. At its most intriguing, the relationship morphs into a disturbing case of Stockholm Syndrome, yet It Is In Us All (2022) meanders in bizarre directions. One way to interpret the perplexing behavior of Evan is by pairing it with the same post-crash trauma – a way for the boy to cope with the heavy-weighing experience. The two men, challenged by their masculinity and feeling of guilt, begin to act oddly, and while It Is In Us All (2022) keeps the intrigue afloat, the payoff just isn’t satisfying.
Aside from exploring the many shades of communing with the local kids – as seen in a cringy scene where Evan performs a sly Tik-Tok-style dance by the fire for his new muse – Hamish spirals into a complete meltdown, pictured by Cosmo Jarvis with visible and undeniable dedication. That’s actually a solid foundation for a film with such wobbly narrative constructs. Jarvis beams with internalized longing for his mother, his ripped-into-pieces past, and the growing sense of hatred toward his father – but mostly himself – as he finally begins to wrap his head around reality. One of the most visceral representations of that mental collapse finds Hamish when he’s thrown completely off-balance, attempting to apply duct tape on a bad wound on his arm. His anger and suffering are palpable.
Frankly, Campbell-Hughes indulges in showing the physical dimension of Hamish’s struggle. The man walks miles, and every fall worsens his already worrying condition. Truth be told, cinema has seen so many weirdos over the years, as well people going through crises, that only a bunch earned our heartfelt affection. And despite his best efforts, Cosmo Jarvis lacks the skills to mold this chaos into a character that we root for – we observe, but do not feel all that much.
Admittedly, there is something Odisseian in this journey – a kind of methodical searching for purpose within a series of aimless actions. Sadly though, the director flounces instead of patiently unraveling the pieces of the puzzle. Moreover, those that are unraveled, often seem to lack context. Hamish’s venture into his psyche frequently holds and resumes, due to the stops that are more of a filler than plot-developing substance.