We all have people who have come into our lives that make us question our pasts. That concept is examined, ripped apart, and snorted in Andrew Haigh’s quiet and devastating fantastical drama All of Us Strangers. Based on Japanese writer Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel Strangers, the director and his two main actors take what has traditionally been a horror-based story and turn it into a haunting meditation on grief.
Andrew Scott, known for his work on Fleabag and Sherlock, plays a gay man living in a new and empty London high-rise apartment. As Adam, he spends his days avoiding writing his screenplay and watching old episodes of Top of the Pops. During a fire drill, he meets a fellow lonely neighbor named Harry. Paul Mescal (Normal People, Aftersun) gives Harry a cool sensuality. There’s something forbidden yet inviting about his performance and he plays off Scott beautifully.
While the two get to know each other and we get to know them, Haigh employs every trick in his romantic arsenal to get his audience to fall in love with them as a couple. It works. The chemistry between Scott and Mescal is palpable, from their longing looks to Harry’s gentle attempts at flirting. They talk about Harry’s estrangement from his parents and Haigh builds a false sense of security that is rocked when Adam travels out of town and follows a mustachioed man into a liquor store.
It’s clear the two know each other in a familiar way. Played by Jamie Bell, he leads Adam back to his childhood home where Claire Foy’s character waits for him. Unsure of what’s happening he embraces his parents and talks about what they missed after they passed in a car crash when he was 12.
The narrative jumps between Adam’s growing time with his parents and his relationship with Harry. Scott captures a man dealing with his repressed grief by controlling the everchanging pain in his eyes. He wants to make up for lost time, having those hard conversations with his parents that he never got to have. Scott and Foy are at their best during their second meeting, when Adam comes out to her. It’s funny and slightly painful, as Foy tries to reconcile that not only is her son gay but how attitudes and times have changed.
Bell gives his best performance of his career as Adam’s father, combining a very English ‘80s era father with a kind paternal spirit. We don’t know if he and Foy are real or not but his presence feels natural and lived in, like the rest of Haigh’s film.
I struggle to ascribe a genre to All of Us Strangers beyond “romantic fantastical drama” because no easy answers are given. It could be a grounded supernatural drama, rooted in a ghost story. It could be a psychological romantic drama or even a realistic sci-fi film in the vein of Petite Maman. Like the film’s ending, everything is up for interpretation. But one thing that you can’t argue with is that All of Us Strangers will haunt you with its beauty long after you walk out of the theater.
All of Us Strangers is due to hit theaters Dec. 22. Watch the trailer below.