A lonely, withdrawn screenwriter (Andrew Scott) begins an intense relationship with a mysterious man (Paul Mescal) who also lives in his near-empty apartment block, just as he finds himself drawn back to his childhood home - where his parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) have reappeared, just as they were before they died in a tragic accident almost thirty years ago...
Much of 'All Of Us Strangers' operates on nameless, unexplained feelings that are at once both universal and deeply intimate.
If the old saying is that you can't go home again, Andrew Haigh's script and direction challenges it directly. When we first arrive into the glassed-off flat of Andrew Scott's character, there's all the signs of a life - books, records, a half-smoked joint in an ashtray, a YouTube video of Frankie Goes To Hollywood playing on the telly - but it's as though Scott's character is there only in a physical presence. His spirit, whatever's inside of him, is long since gone. On a whim, he decides to travel back home in the hope of breaking a logjam in his work and suddenly finds his parents, played with gentle warmth by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy, alive and well and more than happy to see him. The house may be trapped in the eighties, but they're alive in a way that he wasn't before then.
It's such an odd concept, hokey and overly sentimental but at the same time the way in which Scott plays it feels real. What's more, Haigh's script and dialogue takes the time to play out all the things that Scott's character had wanted to say and was robbed of because of his grief. One scene, in particular, focuses on Scott coming out to his on-screen mother, Claire Foy, and brushes up against what would have been contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. It's not the immediate acceptance that wish fulfilment would have brought, but rather an honest appraisal of what he knew of his parents and where it ended. Equally, the nature of the relationship with Mescal's character is equally real - it's all at once sexual and intense, but then as it wears on and goes deeper, there's an edge to it that turns it towards something else.
For all of the high concept of 'All of Us Strangers', all of the cast play their roles with a grounded, believable framework of emotions. Andrew Scott's character is frank about his own shortcomings, and how he's intentionally left out deeper connections in his life as a result. Paul Mescal, who is so often associated with vulnerability in past performances, goes for something decidedly unique and mysterious. The story intentionally keeps parts of itself blank until it's ready to be written, particularly when it comes to certain characters, and the ending is likely to be discussed and dissected for quite some time. There can be a sense in watching 'All of Us Strangers' that it's going for the highest, broadest possible swathe of emotions - and, as a result, allows little in the way of subtlety.
Much like the music of Frankie Goes To Hollywood that feature prominently in 'All of Us Strangers', it can sometimes come across as cheesy and deliberately overwrought for something that is delicate. You are ultimately left with little room to feel anything else, and it can be overbearing - for all the finely tuned performances of the cast. Nevertheless, 'All of Us Strangers' has more working for it than against it, and is bound to become an arthouse hit with audiences in due course.