All of Us Strangers
A ghost story and a love story, this Andrew Scott- and Paul Mescal-starring wonder is a film to swoon over and sink into.
January 18, 2024
As Fleabag knew, and also Sherlock as well, Andrew Scott has the type of empathetic face that makes people want to keep talking to him. Playing the hot priest in Phoebe Waller-Bridge's (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) acclaimed comedy, he was the ultimate listener. Even as the Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch's (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar) Holmes, and with a game always afoot, conversation flowed. All of Us Strangers puts this innate air — this sensation that to be in Scott's company is to want to unburden yourself to his welcoming ears — at its tender and feverishly beating heart, this time with Paul Mescal (Foe) as one of his discussion partners. Dreamy and contemplative, haunting and heartfelt, and also delicate and devastating, the fifth film by Weekend and 45 Years writer/director Andrew Haigh, which is his first since 2017's Lean on Pete, is stunningly cast with Scott in seeing-is-feeling mode as its isolated screenwriter protagonist alone.
That Scott is joined by Mescal, Claire Foy (Women Talking) and Jamie Bell (Shining Girls) gives All of Us Strangers one of the finest four-hander casts in recent memory. Awards bodies clearly agree, with nods going around for everyone (alongside wins for Best Film and Best Director, the British Independent Film Awards gave all four of the feature's core cast members nominations, with Mescal scoring the Best Supporting Performance trophy, for instance). Haigh isn't merely preternaturally talented at picking the exact right actors to play his on-screen figures, but it's one of his most-crucial skills, as every performance in his latest shattering picture demonstrates. It comes as no surprise that Scott, Mescal, Foy and Bell are all excellent. It's similarly hardly unexpected that Haigh has made another movie that cuts so emotionally deep that viewers will feel as if they've been within its frames. Combine these stars with this filmmaker, though, and a feature that was always likely to combine its exceptional parts into a perfect sum is somehow even more affecting and astonishing.
That been-there vibe, like everyone watching has been Scott's Adam or Mescal's Harry — or Foy and Bell as the former's mum and dad — contributes to an ethereal atmosphere: anyone who has ever wondered where their memories and dreams end and reality commences, as we all do daily in an emotional sense, understands. So it is that Adam is caught between the past, the present and perhaps the future as he works on a new project, which gets him peering back at his childhood. Like sleepwalking, he's pulled to his 80s-era home where he discovers the parents that he lost just before he was 12 awaiting. They look the same as they did the last time that he saw them, but he's definitely an adult. What does a fortysomething queer man who grew up in the period, never had the chance to tell his mother and father who he was, and has a lifetime's worth of truths to share and grief to process, say and do when he gets a fantastical opportunity? That's one of All of Us Strangers' strands.
Amid Adam's dancing with his nostalgia, this adaptation of Taichi Yamada's novel Strangers also flits from his family to his romantic relationships. He experiences almost everyone's biggest wish when Mescal's Harry comes knocking on his door with a bottle of whisky in hand in the apartment block that they both dwell in. They're the London building's only two residents, in fact. One lonely spirit recognises another and, after an initial rejection on Adam's side — he's that accustomed to being on his own — passion springs. In his flat and in ketamine-induced reveries at clubs, Adam and Harry see possibilities and find solace. They have deep-and-meaningful "this is why I am why I am" chats. They sink into their new idyll, as All of Us Strangers' audience does into the poignant flick. Despite what the movie's title proclaims about humanity even within its closest bonds, they try intensely and sincerely not to be outsiders to each other.
With the Pet Shop Boys' version of 'Always on My Mind' and Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'The Power of Love' on the soundtrack also aiding in setting a swooning mood, this is an intimate tale that innately and sensitively appreciates being consumed by the events, traumas and absences that've shaped you — and just as intuitively and compassionately recognises not just the perspective-altering delights but also the comforts of falling for someone. But Haigh doesn't stop there. Making a ghost story, a love story and a queer portrait in one, his film is characteristically layered. It also feels like the continuation of dialogues started in his past work, capturing what it means to be a gay man as per Weekend, to navigate life coloured by tragedy as in 45 Years and to yearn for a guiding hand as Lean on Pete did.
Shooting scenes in the house that Haigh himself grew up in also helps build a movie that immaculately matches its aesthetics with its emotions. The decades-gone-by cosiness of Adam's time with his mum and dad is pivotal as All of Us Strangers conveys a certainty applicable to all parents and children: no matter how old the latter get, we all become kids again around the people who brought us into this world, frozen in time in our heads and hearts while weathering the passing years externally. As well as making ample and telling use of reflections and windows, Living cinematographer Jamie Ramsay heroes cooler tones whenever Adam is alone, but warmer hues when he has company. That touch ensures that embracing the fact that existing means co-existing with our histories like we're glimpsing reminders everywhere, as the feature does, observes the joys along with the sorrows and struggles.
Penned in 1987 and translated into English in 2003, Yamada's Strangers has earned the cinematic treatment before courtesy of 1988 horror film The Discarnates by the late, great Nobuhiko Obayashi (who gave the world one of Japan's all-time entries in the genre with 1977's House). There's never any question that All of Us Strangers is Haigh's movie, however — or that his iteration is a wonder that reckons with heartbreak and hope in tandem. That's the power of the British filmmaker's output, including TV's Looking and The North Water. Whichever screen he's crafting stories for, the end results always linger on the mind. Scott's staggering — and subtle, and anchoring — portrayal is one of the latest pieces of proof. Mescal's unforgettably naturalistic supporting turn, plus the chemistry between the pair, provide others. No one leaves All of Us Strangers as an alien to its lived-in emotions, either — or, as Haigh so perceptively knows, goes into it that way to begin with.
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