All of Us Strangers, from writer-director Andrew Haigh, starts and ends with visuals of cosmic significance. Yes, there’s a grand world out there—a universe too—though the film itself is insular, maintaining instead a close study of human relationships. In this mode, few contemporary filmmakers can match Haigh—even if his latest falls somewhat short of the bar he’s set for himself.
Adapted from the novel by Taichi Yamada, Haigh introduces us to Adam (Andrew Scott), a writer living alone in London. As All of Us Strangers makes clear from the outset: Adam’s loneliness stretches out beyond himself, erasing even the possibility of connecting with another soul. This changes when Harry (Paul Mescal), a handsome stranger, gradually wakes Adam from his depressed slumber. This takes some doing, however, as Haigh develops his film’s other major element: grief. Though orphaned at 12, we watch as Adam journeys to and converses with the spirits of his deceased parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy), appearing as their last selves. Despite admitting it was “so long ago,” Scott’s careful timber and soft eyes belie a deeper truth, and imbue Adam with a sadness that suffuses everything around him—even the joy he finds in Harry’s company. In these two small spaces, Haigh examines Adam’s “coming out” as it were, to his parents and the living world, while navigating the bubble of intimacy he suddenly finds himself in. At its best, the pain and relief on display take solid shape, even as the film’s narrative slips away into ghostly reveries; Haigh trusts his tale to be universal enough to both ground it and keep us drawn in.
Still, Haigh’s challenge becomes two-fold: maintain dramatic interest with minimal real-world intrusion and avoid repetition once the novelty of his conceit is revealed. All of Us Strangers doesn’t quite make it all the way past that—despite its strong central performances—but there’s room enough to reflect on what it does quite well. The feelings within are not insignificant.