Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal headline Andrew Haigh’s All Of Us Strangers. But how on earth are you supposed to review it?
A few weeks after I saw All Of Us Strangers, I bumped into someone who was set to review it, but hadn’t yet seen the film. They asked what I thought.
I’d deliberately left some time to reflect on the movie before I wrote about it, for reasons I’ll come to, but even in conversation, I couldn’t give them a good answer.
I made some joke about wanting to buy better stationery to write about the film with, about how I wanted to improve myself to meet the movie itself. But I couldn’t explain why.
As you’re about to discover, I’m still not sure I can.
In truth, I spent some of the time after watching the film considering whether I’m good enough to write about it, I explained to the person. That’s not a moment of self-deprecation particularly, but a genuine thought that had crossed my mind: what do you do when you don’t feel that you don’t have the words and the skill to measure up to what you’ve just seen?
The screening I attended of the film – I’ll get to the movie specifically in a second – had shaken me.
Around half an hour into the film, someone sat a few rows in front of me started uncontrollably sobbing. After a few minutes, they had to get up to leave, their emotions at a point where they seemed to be completely overwhelmed.
I saw them again on the way out. They were still crying. It sounds like a made-up detail, but their eyes were shot red, the side of their face drenched in tears. I don’t know their story and I don’t know the person. From what I saw, there was something nestling in All Of Us Strangers that absolutely caught them.
A few days later I caught up with a friend of mine who’d been at a screening just afterwards. Their response was similar. They didn’t leave the screen, but what they were watching was searing deep into them.
I didn’t have that initial visceral reaction to the film. My response to it was strong, and I didn’t leave my seat until the credits had longed rolled. But I simply didn’t have the tools to adequately respond to it in the days after. Ordinarily, when I’m writing a film review, I try and leave it a day or two to let the movie in question sit in my thoughts. Not every film needs it, of course. But in the case of All Of Us Strangers, I kept coming back to this piece and having to close the document. In the end, I watched it two months before I’m writing about it now. I can’t tell you everything that happened on the screen, but I can absolutely tell you how it’s made me feel.
The details are going to be light, though. Far lighter than usual. It’s a loose adaptation of a 1987 Japanese novel by Taichi Yamada, the second time that particular story has been turned into a film. Writer/director Andrew Haigh has stripped the ghost story out of the novel, and focused instead on another aspect of it, that – again – I’ll not go into the detail of. He’s put at the heart of the film a burgeoning romance between Paul Mescal’s Harry and Andrew Scott’s Adam, which in turn opens up, well, a lot more.
I know it’s not difficult to find out where the film goes and what then happens. It’s odd, though. I feel a responsibility to at least give you what I had: a clean, unspoilt viewing of the film. Had I known more, I may have written a more conventional response. But I didn’t know more, and here I find myself.
My own circumstance? I’ve written a few times before that I try to approach films having not seen a trailer now. In the case of All Of Us Strangers, I sat down simply knowing I liked the actors a lot, and that Andrew Haigh is an outstanding British filmmaking talent.
The problem with writing about films such as these, though, is if critical voices go head over heels, it tends to sometimes inspire an opposite reaction. That a film is dismissed as pretentious, or the kind of film that critics like and broader audiences don’t. And I do think that if you don’t connect with the themes of All Of Us Strangers, you may have a ‘staring at the screen, wondering what that was all about’ moment.
It doesn’t help that I’ve painted a picture of an emotional film. It’s not that being emotional is a bad thing, yet what I was struck by here was how unforced it was. I like, for instance, the 1999 movie The Green Mile. Yet when I was watching that particular picture, I was conscious I was being funneled to a point where I was expected to cry at the end.
All Of Us Strangers isn’t like that. I can’t speak for Andrew Haigh, but I don’t get the impression he’s got a determined response he’s expecting. The old cliché is that it’s an audience that completes a film, that what you bring to it will influence what you take away.
I’ve got to round this up.
Maybe I’ll allow myself a moment of reviewer cliché and hyberbole at the end, if you don’t mind. This film has sat with me for months, and I get goosebumps sitting thinking about it. The most perfect ending too, I should note, and the pictures and sound are wrapped up in well under two hours.
But as I sit here, knowing I have to end this, I know I can’t possibly measure up to what I’ve seen and how it’s affected me. I think films like these come along a couple of times a decade if we’re lucky: it’s not a film of the year conversation, it’s a lot more than that. There’s that bit of hyperbole for you.
I am not sure why and how All Of Us Strangers exists, and how it’s come together quite so sensationally. But it does, it has. And even if I’m the wrong person to tell you this, it’s an astounding example of prime cinema. Just read someone else’s review to find out why.
All Of Us Strangers is out in UK cinemas on the 26th January.