The Movie Waffler New to VOD - ALL OF US STRANGERS | The Movie Waffler


A man finds his parents living in his childhood home despite them having been killed when he was a boy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Andrew Haigh

Starring: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell

All of Us Strangers poster

I haven't read Taichi Yamada's 1987 novel 'Strangers', but I have seen its enigmatic 1988 cinematic adaptation, director Nobuhiko Obayashi's The Discarnates. Obayashi's film veers wildly between a heartbreaking melodrama and a horror movie in a way I suspected Andrew Haigh's English language reworking would never dare. Likely a symptom of the modern western filmmaker's fear of including any elements a cynical audience might consider hokey, Haigh has dropped practically all of the original's horror elements in order to focus on the melodrama. In doing so, his film is more tightly focussed but the final act of this version comes off as jarring as the groundwork for its late developments hasn't been laid.

Andrew Scott plays Adam, a gay screenwriter who lives in a London tower block straight out of a Ballard story. Struggling to write a script about his childhood, Adam finds that listening to his favourite 1980s pop tunes isn't enough to provide inspiration. He decides to visit his suburban childhood home, where he is shocked to find his mum (Claire Foy) and dad (Jamie Bell) seemingly still alive despite having been killed in a car accident when Adam was 12.

All of Us Strangers review

Adam's parents greet him as though he's simply returned after having emigrated, commenting on how much he's grown since they last saw him. Rather than question his sanity, Adam throws himself into this odd reality he finds himself in, taking the opportunity to bond with his parents as an adult in a way he never quite could as a child.

Having never had the opportunity to come out to his parents while they were alive, Adam opens up to his mother over tea one afternoon. For her it's still the late '80s, and her reaction reflects the ignorance of that era. She worries about AIDS, and remarks that "I hear it's a very lonely life." Adam assures her that if he's lonely it's not because he's gay, but Scott plays the moment in a manner that suggests he doesn't entirely believe his own words.

All of Us Strangers review

Adam's lonely life is enlivened when he begins a relationship with Harry (Paul Mescal), the only other resident of his tower block. The twentysomething Harry may be from what is considered a more progressive generation but being gay seems to have caused him just as much loneliness. He confesses to being estranged from his family, seems to struggle to find love, and has a dangerous self-medicating relationship with drugs and alcohol.

The key theme of The Discarnates was how grief and nostalgia can be consumptive and unhealthy. In that film the protagonist slowly turns into a zombie the longer he spends in his parents' company. It's rendered through some unconvincing make-up, but the allegory works nonetheless. Adam doesn't physically deteriorate in the same way and there seems to be no downside to his relationship with his parents, which makes their actions towards him in the final act seem unnecessarily cruel. The final blood soaked twist of the Japanese film worked specifically because its protagonist is explicitly characterised as a misanthropic asshole at the beginning of the film, becoming a better man thanks to the influence of his spectral parents and the troubled neighbour who becomes his lover. Scott's Adam is a lovely bloke from the start, which makes the final twist less convincing here.

All of Us Strangers review

As its protagonist was a heterosexual man, The Discarnates didn't have much to say about the generation gap, but Haigh uses Adam's sexuality to interrogate how we look back at less enlightened times. Younger generations like to think that if they lived in the past they'd still possess today's attitudes. It's a notion Haigh dismisses. Adam's parents aren't casually homophobic because they're bad people, but simply because they grew up in an era that gave them no reason to view homosexuality in a positive light. Their reaction to Adam's revelations are cruel, but not willingly so, and in Adam's presence they interrogate their own beliefs. The movie's best scene sees Adam's father confess that he heard his son's childhood tears and ignored them because he couldn't process the idea of his son being gay, only to tearfully ask Adam for forgiveness. It's a reminder of the importance of truth and reconciliation, a notion that's very untrendy in this modern era of reductively writing off anyone whose ideas we disagree with.

Tellingly, the gay anthems that make up All of Us Strangers' soundtrack are all from the 1980s, an era when it seemed every other popstar was openly gay. If things have really gotten better, why are there so few gay popstars now? Haigh's film asks us to stop wagging our fingers at the past and ask if we're really living in the best version of the present.

All of Us Strangers
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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