All of Us Strangers review: Andrew Haigh's film is a beautiful haunting
Andrew Scott has never been as emotionally bare as he is in this elegant and profound film.
You’re never quite sure where you stand with this dreamy romantic drama from British writer/director Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Lean on Pete).
Though it begins in present-day London, where lonely writer Adam (Andrew Scott) works on a script in a new, nearly empty block of flats, it soon blurs the lines between past and present, living and dead.
Based on the 1987 novel Strangers by Japanese writer Taichi Yamada, but retooled by Haigh to reflect his own autobiography, it manages to feel both specific and universal all at once, one of the hallmarks of great art.
We first see Adam staring out over the urban sprawl, his face ghosted in the window glass. He watches daytime TV, picks at takeaway leftovers, falls asleep on the sofa – anything but actually writing.
During a fire drill, he spots Harry (Paul Mescal) peering down at him from an apartment high above, another lonely soul trapped in the indifferent city.
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Later, Harry knocks at his door and drunkenly propositions him. "I don’t think that’s a good idea," says Adam, although they soon begin a tentative romance.
Adam starts writing, remembering, digging through a box of old memories under the bed. He takes a trip back to his hometown and meets his father (Jamie Bell), who’s about his age and looks a little like Harry.
"Guess who I found loitering in the park?" Adam’s dad tells his mum (Claire Foy), as the three are reunited.
Gradually, it becomes clear that Adam’s parents died a long time ago, but quite how they can commune so casually across the years is never explained.
With just six credited roles – one of them a waitress; the other Adam glimpsed as a boy – this is an intimate, powerfully acted affair.
Scott’s amused intensity has enlivened everything from Sherlock to Fleabag on TV, but he’s never been so emotionally bare before. Mescal’s Harry is sweeter, if more broken. They’re both clearly at crisis points, and you hope they might be able to help one another.
Back in the suburbs, both Foy and Bell bring brittle warmth to their characters. They’re far from perfect – mum is shocked, saying that Adam doesn’t "look gay" when he comes out to her; dad admits he might have bullied him if they were at school together – but their interactions have the tender ring of truth.
"Can you throw a ball?" asks dad. "Not at all," laughs Adam. Case closed.
Later, Adam and his mum lie on her bed and talk of the things they missed. He imagined them going to Disneyland in his teens, except they argued all the time. "It doesn’t matter," he says. "We were together."
There’s something heartbreaking in the modesty of these wishes. They’re not asking to change what happened, just to have a little more time, whether it’s spent catching up, decorating the Christmas tree or eating at a fast-food restaurant.
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The fact the early scenes were shot at Haigh’s real childhood home gives you some idea of the layers of authenticity on show.
Jamie D Ramsay’s cinematography captures the comforting beiges of suburban life, as well as the capital’s neon mystery. Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s score, all low shimmering chords, mimics the passing of time. The soundtrack, meanwhile, leans heavily on queer 1980s anthems such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love, which grows in importance until it’s part of the narrative itself.
As with Haigh’s earlier work, there’s an elegance that makes the everyday feel profound. While the exact nature of what’s happening remains tantalisingly out of reach, what we’re left with is both beautiful and haunting: a beautiful haunting.