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'All of Us Strangers' Review

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October 23, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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All of Us Strangers screened at the 2023 Twin Cities Film Fest. Searchlight Pictures releases it in theaters on December 22.

Being alone isn’t solely confined to the physical world within writer/director Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers, an adaptation of the 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada. The recluse at the center of this story is Adam (Andrew Scott), a middle-class screenwriter who relentlessly keeps himself holed up in his semi-decent London flat. But things aren’t all bad as Harry (Paul Mescal) shows up unannounced at Adam’s door. They seem to be the only two residents alive within this ghost town of an apartment complex, making their interaction feel almost like destiny, especially considering that both of them are queer.

Despite Harry’s casualness, Adam isn’t someone who’s able to open himself up to other people. He’s been alone almost his entire life as both his parents died in a car crash when he was twelve. He’s working on a script based on his closeted childhood, but the words just can’t seem to form on the page. Somehow he’s able to do research by going back to his old childhood home outside of London, where both of his parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) still reside as if they never died or aged a day since their demise. Both they and Adam are aware of this fantasy, yet they do not speak of it, almost as if keeping it unspoken retains its power.

Aligning with Yamada’s novel, Haigh never commits to fully explaining this illusion. Is Adam crazy? Is he time-traveling? Is he just dreaming? Is this a manifestation of his script? All of those explanations are equally valid in the moment, yet none of them are important enough to warrant in-depth examination. To borrow a line from Christopher Nolan’s Tenet: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” The only thing that matters here is the ethereal pull of Adam’s experience and how it offers an examination of life then and now.

For all the warmth that comes with nostalgic memories of your past, there is also the cold, sobering rush of reality. Even in Adam’s fantasy, coming out to his parents doesn’t go over smoothly. Both of them have their mindsets trapped in the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Adam explains that there are no problems with being queer in modern society, and yet his and Harry’s story would indicate otherwise.

Haigh elevates his craft with visual flourishes that aid the dreamlike nature of the film. Mirrors and reflections, both in their literal and metaphorical form, play an integral role in Adam’s journey between the worlds. There’s a gentle flow between the scenes, with frames dissolving and fading into each other. Cinematographer Jamie Ramsay recreates magic hour photography everywhere he aims his passive 35mm camera.

That absorbing visual palette aids the performances of the core quartet. Scott reaches for a healthy dose of tears and pent-up regret, which balances nicely with the strategically outward pain from Mescal. Bell and Foy are affectionate as the enigmatic parental figures, always feeling like real characterizations of people that once lived and loved.

All of Us Strangers is a ghost story that invites the viewer to project themselves onto the story just as much as it tells its own. There’s nothing easy about letting go of the past, and there’s nothing easy about what comes after. It’s not an uplifting message, but it’s an endearing one that we’ve all come to find truth in.

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