It’s Christmas. What better time for a ghost story in which an isolated protagonist comes to terms with his past by way of reckonings, reconciliations and a supernatural dash of time travel?
Adam, the screenwriter character at the center of “All of Us Strangers,” is no Scrooge. As portrayed by Andrew Scott in an achingly vulnerable performance, he’s simply lonely, depressed and creatively blocked, avoiding work by watching TV, listening to ’80s pop and drifting around his flat in a near-empty apartment complex in London. When Adam’s torpor is interrupted one night by building-mate Harry (Paul Mescal), he’s initially put off by Harry’s louche, slightly shambolic demeanor; eventually, though, Harry’s easy bravado wears Adam down and the two embark on a tentative affair.
The relationship awakens something in Adam, and soon he is on a train on his way to the suburban home where he grew up. It’s here, amid the trappings of middle-class respectability, that he warily revisits the circumstances of his parents’ death 30 years earlier.
Loosely adapted by writer-director Andrew Haigh from a novel by Taichi Yamada, “All of Us Strangers” exerts an eerie, mesmerizing pull, as Adam’s memories of his parents flood back — they are exquisitely played by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell — plunging him into an immediate, improbably tangible parallel reality. Haigh, who reportedly used his own childhood home to stand in for Adam’s, films “All of Us Strangers” with quiet sensitivity and closely observed detail, bringing viewers along on a journey that increasingly blurs the lines between dream, reality, the wish-fulfillment fantasy Adam is scripting in his own head and the quotidian experience of feeling the presence of loved ones even when they’re long gone.
Another term for that feeling is being in a “thin place,” which is the territory Haigh stakes out in this delicate, emotionally engulfing film. (“All of Us Strangers” was shot and edited by Jamie Ramsay and Jonathan Alberts, respectively, both of whom make impressive contributions to the haunting spell the movie casts.) As the audience’s emotional proxy, Scott generates immediate sympathy as a soulful loner supremely deserving of the spontaneity and uncomplicated fun Harry brings. Together, Scott and Mescal create a low-key, believable chemistry as opposites who attract — not with fireworks, but with a slow, erotically charged burn. Its elegiac themes might make “All of Us Strangers” sound like a bummer, when it’s anything but. This is an intriguing, increasingly mystifying rabbit hole disguised as a romantic drama, with all the sensuous pleasures the genre suggests (not to mention some superfun synth-pop cuts from Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Pet Shop Boys).
It turns out that “All of Us Strangers” has even more surprises in store than spectators might think, twists that Haigh doles out carefully, culminating in a reveal that leaves viewers both shocked and deeply moved. This Christmas carol doesn’t conclude around a happy, cozy table, but it does offer its own prayer, about the loving, cosmic embrace of the life everlasting, and its implications for our lives right now. God bless us, every one — and everyone make sure to bless one another, too.
R. At area theaters. Contains sexual situations, strong language and some drug use. 105 minutes.