Cosmo Jarvis is an absolute marvel in the directorial debut of Antonia Campbell-Hughes It Is In Us All, a feature LGBTQ drama/thriller that had its world premiere at SXSW where it picked up a Special Jury Prize for Extraordinary Cinematic Vision.
Extraordinary cinematic vision, indeed.
Jarvis is Hamish, a young man whose epic woundedness enters the lens of Piers McGrail in the film's opening moments and never really leaves us even long after the closing credits have rolled and we're left to reflect on this simultaneously thrilling yet meditative film. We meet Hamish as he's arriving in Donegal, an Irish locale on its west coast that is practically tailor-made for cinematic presentation. McGrail surely makes the most of it. It's unclear why Hamish, who seems overwhelmingly guided by compulsion in most areas of his life, is drawn to this place where an aunt, his mother's sister, has recently died and left him this home. Hamish's mother, deceased, is a mysterious figure who hangs over most of what unfolds in It Is In Us All, an intelligently rendered film that offers many questions and refuses easy answers.
On his way to his destination, Hamish is in a horrific auto crash that claims the life of a teenager in the other car. This scene is one of several where McGrail's lens practically envelopes the screen and immerses us in the experience.
If it sounds like I found myself completely enthralled by McGrail's lensing, well, this is absolutely true.
It Is In Us All is more a journey film than a destination one. There are a myriad of films you will think of while watching the film, some you will swear are more engagingly rendered yet very few, if any, as thoughtful and reflective as this film that explores issues without defining them for us.
Once Hamish has been interviewed post-accident and released from the hospital, he visits the barely attended funeral of the young man who died in his crash. An outsider in some ways, Donegal is a rural enough area that Hamish is nevertheless recognized by the young man's mother, Cara (Campbell-Hughes), and his best friend, Evan (Rhys Mannion), who survived the accident unscathed.
There is a patriarchal dominance that practically smothers the screen throughout It Is In Us All. It's different than toxic masculinity, though I suppose one could say that's one of its physical manifestations. The story that unfolds here is fueled by the ways in which trauma binds us together both intimately and universally. There's never a doubt that Hamish is a wounded soul, a dominant jerk of a father (Claes Bang) clearly influencing him in ways that are obvious yet mostly unspoken. Hamish will have encounters with Cara throughout It Is In Us All, often rage-filled yet also encounters that seem to provide some sort of glue for the cracks within his psyche. In these encounters, both Jarvis and Campbell-Hughes are mesmerizing.
The relationship of sorts that grows between Hamish and Evan is fragile yet sexually charged, an obvious intimacy finding its way into what feels like a relationship borne out of dysfunctional cycles and unmet needs. There's a foreboding sense of danger that radiates throughout many of these scenes, though it would seem that Campbell-Hughes is more interested in exploring the emotional side of this danger rather than turning It Is In Us All into an actual physical thriller. In fact, we go through extended periods here where meditative is the only word that really applies, silence filling the gaps when words simply don't suffice.
It Is In Us All is a film that practically begs to be discussed after a viewing, its images and words and silences immersing us in the systems and cultures that define us without ever providing an easy out or an easy answer. Through it all, Jarvis gives one of the year's most mesmerizing and hypnotic performances and makes you want to immediately want to watch everything else he's done.
We're never quite sure what to make of Rhys Mannion's Evan, who seems to vacillate between being some type of perpetrator yet also perhaps a victim of sorts. At times, Evan seems to be taunting Hamish completely aware of his influence yet there are other times when it feels as if everything he does is a response to the world that created him.
I've already raved enough, I suppose, about Piers McGrail's atmospheric, immersive lensing but there's little denying it's an essential ingredient to the impact of this sparse yet engaging story. Original music by Tom Furse enhances that sense of immersion and John Leslie's production design makes the most of this rural setting that is simultaneously beautiful yet overwhelming.
It Is In Us All has already been picked up by Wolfe Releasing for its US distribution and also has distribution deals for UK, Australia, and New Zealand. I have little doubt there are more to come in the near future.
It Is In Us All isn't always the easiest film to watch, though those who persevere will find it an emotionally honest and visually arresting experience and an absolutely top-notch directorial debut from Antonia Campbell-Hughes.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic