Andrew Haigh’s emotional fantasy drama projects luminous rays of romance into a swirling dustbowl of self-imposed isolation and trauma.
Withdrawn and wounded, Adam has formed a supernatural bond with his parents who died in a tragic car smash when he was 12. Visiting them regularly frozen in time, he is trapped in a deeply unhealthy coping mechanism for his devastating grief.
When he meets the charismatic but troubled Harry he is forced to confront his rose tinted regression. Through a tapestry of tenderness and trust, Adam must shrug off his supernatural comfort blanket if wants to reclaim his life and sexuality.
Haigh’s paradoxical film manages to be both heartbreakingly personal and invitingly inclusive at the same time. He uses his actual childhood home as a backdrop, yet peppers the drama with needle drops everyone can relate to. He forges a narrative of extraordinarily finite melancholia, yet encompasses universal truths. He draws simplistic intimacy from the clumsy chaos of budding romance while daring the viewer to accept, and interpret, the audacious phantasmagorical premise.
Andrew Scott is mesmerising as the vulnerable Adam, a man who is stuck in a bottleneck of loss and abandonment, obsessed with seeking acceptance and unconditional love at the idealistic altar of his dead parents. For the most part, he drifts on the outskirts of existence in a pragmatic daze of unhappiness. However, there are moments of sheer sadness that crack his stoicism like a sledgehammer. These astonishing glimpses of undiluted anguish are handled by Scott in a way that is only achievable by actors willing to mine their own life experiences down to the juiciest marrow.
The soundtrack is engaging in its familiarity, mirroring Adam’s mindset. It explores both the power of music on young minds in terms of expression and its subsequent dominance through nostalgia. Often acting as subtle signposting for the narrative it also eases tonal transitions with effortless style. Not least Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s iconic ballad The Power of Love, a song that proved a resonating anthem for those losing loved ones to the horror of AIDS in the mid-1980s.
It’s not crazy to suggest this movie could have easily worked as a musical. Indeed, during a touching Christmas tree decoration scene, it becomes just that. This sequence elicited a wave of weepy empathy from me that surprised me in its intensity. Many such scenes could swiftly ambush you too, and I wager that at least one of them will.
The fact the two lovers are queer is, of course, relevant. However, it does not exclusively define the film. It is more concerned with the power and pain memories excerpt on all of us, irrespective of sexuality, and the struggle to survive in the trenches of life under fire from fate, loss and grief.
As is always the way with such emotionally honest art, how intensely you identify with All of Us Strangers will determine how much of a cathartic wrecking ball it is for you.
Haig designed his film to be a compassionate and caring cinematic hug. Indeed, it is warm, woozy, and well-meaning. But be warned, it ends up being the kind of embrace that spawns such levels of self-recognition and bittersweet catharsis that tears ducts will surely dampen its shoulders.
Beautifully written and impeccably acted, it’s a stunning movie about cutting the masochistic anchors of the past and learning to live in the scary fragility of the moment.
In UK cinemas January 26th / Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy / Dir: Andrew Haigh / Searchlight Pictures / 15 / Podcast review link