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All of Us Strangers

Director – Andrew Haigh – 2023 – UK – Cert. 15 – 105m

*****

A gay Londoner travels by train to visit his parents in Sanderstead, following their deaths in a car crash when he was 12 years old – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 26th

He (Andrew Scott) lives alone in a London tower block. Not only is he the single occupant of his flat, there’s almost no-one else in the building. When he goes outside for a breath of fresh air, he sees a guy in the window of one of the other apartments. Later, there’s a knock at his door. It’s the guy (Paul Mescal), who is slightly drunk, comes on strong and tries to get himself invited in. The visitor’s name is Harry. The occupant introduces himself as Adam, but doesn’t let Harry in.

By day, Adam writes screenplays. But he’s got stuck, so after perusing some personal effects, he takes the train to Sanderstead. There, he watches a boy in a window. He follows a man across an area of parkland. Coming out of a shop, the man spots him and asks him to come over. You think it might be a pickup – but no, it’s his dad (Jamie Bell). His mum (Claire Foy) is home too. They’re both really pleased to see him. It’s been too long.

It’s not immediately obvious they’re his parents. They seem too young.

Back at the London flat, another knock on the door. It’s Harry. This time, Adam lets him in. One thing leads to another… Later, Harry is looking at photos of Adam as a kid. He was fat. The subject of parents comes up. Adam explains both of his died in a car crash when he was 12.

Which is odd, because he keeps making train journeys to Sanderstead. There’s his room, with the Erasure and Frankie Goes to Hollywood albums. In London, he and Harry share more physical moments in his flat, they travel on a train together, they go to a club, they do drugs. Then he comes downstairs to the family living room to put the angel on top of the Christmas tree, like he always used to. He begs his parents not to go round to friends for a Christmas drink. He goes into his parents’ bedroom and is allowed to sleep between them.

But then he hears of his parents’ death over the police radio, finds himself following Harry on the tube and struggling to keep up, then (as a boy) screaming.

When he has recovered from his illness, he takes Harry on the train to visit his folks. When they get there, though, the house is in darkness even though his parents are inside. And then he discovers Harry unconscious in the bedroom in his apartment…

This strange, almost poetic narrative holds together partly because of a brilliant screenplay which really gets underneath the skin of its characters and partly because of a clutch of striking performances from actors who pick up the script and completely sell us its bizarre, seemingly nonsensical timeline. I say nonsensical, but actually the screenplay’s (and perhaps, too, the editing’s) timeline has a peculiar, coherent, internal logic all of its own.

This is a film about being alone, loneliness and isolation (not the same things at all), about the joys of human connection and the pain of separation via bereavement. People have passed on, yet we still see them and hear them talk to us. Apart from Adam, whose name recalls the first man in the Christian myth of the Garden of Eden, it’s possible that the other main characters here are all mere memories, figments of Adam’s imagination. And yet, they appear as corporeal flesh and blood, as real and present as you or I.

And this is where the actors and their performances come in. Andrew Scott as Adam, who spends much of his screen time on his own, is mesmerising in terms of all his little gestures and looks: a truly extraordinary example of the actor’s craft. No less absorbing are the enigmatic Mescal as Harry, the matter-of-fact Bell as his father and the concerned Foy as his mother. A mention should also go to Carter John Grout, who plays the young Adam at the time of his parents’ passing.

Being only 12 when they passed, Adam never had the chance to come out to them; on the occasion he visits them and mum’s in but dad’s out, she pesters him about whether he’s got a girlfriend until he eventually tells her he’s not that way inclined. Later, she tells his dad. He may have been terrified of opening up, but it turns out both parents are accepting of his newly declared identity.

You can stick any number of genre labels or one-word descriptions on this movie – drama, fantasy, science fiction, LGBTQ+, family relationships, bereavement, self-deception – but while each of these accurately pinpoints some aspect of the story, none of them really do justice to the whole. As an integrated package, writer-director Haigh’s film is a true original, although one should note that it’s an adaptation of the book by Taichi Yamada, so that may be part of the source of the originality. Nevertheless, it suggests Haigh as a name to watch in future. A highly original and genuinely stunning piece of work.

All of Us Strangers is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 26th.

In addition, the film is nominated in nine categories in the Critics’ Circle Film Awards. More information here.

Trailer:

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