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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Richard Roeper

Man reunites with his late parents in the ambitiously spiritual ‘All of Us Strangers’

Jamie Bell (left) and Claire Foy play parents who died years ago but appear again to their son, Adam (Andrew Scott), in “All of Us Strangers.” (Searchlight Pictures)

If you lost your parents when they were relatively young, there comes a time when you hit a milestone and realize that you’re now older than they were when they passed. If that isn’t unsettling enough, imagine if you found yourself in the home where you grew up — and your parents are there, apparently frozen in time, maybe 10 years younger than you are now and seemingly unfazed by the fact you can see each other, communicate with each other, hold each other. Maybe they’re ghosts; maybe they’re not. They seem real, and of this time and place.

This is what happens in writer-director’s Andrew Haigh’s elegant and startling and ambitiously spiritual “All of Us Strangers,” and I ask you to trust me when I tell you this is no major spoiler (it’s spelled out in the press materials and in virtually every review and story about the film), and that I’ll refrain from revealing the major, big-swing twists and turns that lead up to a couple of big reveals that will either shatter your heart or have you thinking: Of course. I knew that was coming.

 Or both.

‘All of Us Strangers’

Part psychological thriller, part moody thought piece, part romance, “All of Us Strangers” feels like a feature-length update of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode, and we mean that as a high compliment. In fact, Haigh is adapting the 1987 novel “Strangers” by the Japanese author Taichi Yamada, keeping some core elements but also making major changes, including moving the story from Tokyo to London and making the main character gay while centering on a passionate and tumultuous and loving queer romance.

Andrew Scott plays Adam, a screenwriter in his 40s who is struggling with a script set in the 1980s. At first, we wonder if Adam is living in some sort of post-apocalyptic version of London, given the high-rise he lives in seems to be nearly vacant. Turns out it’s only recently completed, and Adam is one of the first new tenants, along with a dashing and seemingly dangerous man named Harry (Paul Mescal), who shows up at Adam’s door drunk and horny and practically pushing himself on the far more reserved and guarded Adam, who declines Harry’s advances, if somewhat reluctantly.

That soon changes. Adam and Harry enter into a wild and intense romance, with each revealing secrets to the other and each beginning to believe they might have finally found someone to truly care about — someone who will also care for them. In the meantime, something incredible and fantastic and inexplicable has happened to Adam. When he takes a train to the London suburb where he grew up, he runs into his late father (Jamie Bell), who seems pleased and grateful to be reunited with Adam but not particularly overwhelmed or confused. He brings Adam home, where Adam’s mother (Claire Foy) is equally happy but also not particularly shocked by this reunion.

Has Adam time-traveled back to the 1980s? Are his father and mother “real” and living in some kind of suspended-time afterworld, or are they apparitions, or pure figments of his imagination?

These questions hover about, but neither Adam nor his parents seem all that concerned about answering them, at least not for now. Adam’s parents were killed in a horrific auto accident before he had a chance to come out to them, so he takes advantage of the opportunity. His mother seems confused when he tells her he’s gay, (“As in homosexual?”) and worries that Adam will get AIDS; Adam explains that many things have changed since the 1980s. As for Adam’s father, he acknowledges that he probably would have been like the bullies who tormented Adam and expresses his deep regret that he never did anything when he heard Adam sobbing in his bedroom.

Adam (Andrew Scott, left) strikes up an intense romance with his neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal). (Searchlight Pictures)

What beautiful writing by Andrew Haigh in these sequences, and what a feat of acting pulled off by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy and Andrew Scott. Here’s a grown man in ridiculous boy’s pajamas standing in the house he knew as a boy, and his parents are younger than he is, and yet their dynamic remains the same. That’s their boy. They’re his parents.

Still, there are disturbing and alarming moments, often involving a glance into the mirror or a look through the windows of a seemingly empty home. Also, and of equal importance: where does Harry fit into all of this? We’ll say no more, other than offering kudos to Haigh and to the quartet of fine actors who pour themselves into this material. Even if you’re not buying every reveal in the final act, it’s impossible not to admire how they’ve served up a banquet of food for thought.

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