REVIEW: Foe [London Film Festival 2023]

1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

There is perhaps no genre as primed for grand explorations of the human condition as science fiction.

Not constrained by the limits of the world as it is, it’s free to pose questions and imagine scenarios by which we might better understand ourselves. The only question I found myself asking after Foe is how it ever got made.

It’s 2065. Junior (Paul Mescal) and Henrietta (Saoirse Ronan) live on an isolated farm somewhere in the American Midwest. One night, a stranger, Terrence (Aaron Pierce), arrives. The planet is dying and, as representative of a major corporation, Terrence is there to forcibly recruit Junior. A new home is being created for humanity in outer space and apparently, as a dustbowl farmer, Junior has skills that are of value.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Henrietta is unable to join Junior, but, not to worry: the corporation will provide her with a perfect replica of him to help while away those long hours as the apocalypse encroaches.

Foe confines itself mainly to the couple’s farmhouse home as their initial tetchiness becomes increasingly fraught and melodramatic. I found myself thinking it might have made a pretty decent stage-play with a few more drafts. At least then I’d have had the option to leave at the interval.

Instead, Foe is dramatically inert, relying on talented actors to try to breathe life into a relationship that feels painfully allegorical. The trio try their damnedest, given the material, but the film makes impossible demands. The point at which Mescal has a meltdown, ranting weedily about the grossness of the human body, is so excruciatingly misjudged it had me wishing the film would go back to simply being boring.

Davis introduces a plethora of thematic motifs, both obvious and opaque, which left me searching to which, if any, might be key to what Foe is trying to achieve. In its final stretch, as they are dispensed of in turn, I found myself hoping that each might signify the end.

Foe is the worst film I’ve seen at the London Film Festival since 2019’s Rare Beasts – review: ‘all-caps Fleabag‘ – without even the kitchen sink to hide behind. Davis directs competently, and Mátyás Erdély warm, homely cinematography would have well complimented a better film. Oliver Coates, one third of the trio who scored the film, was composer on Aftersun, my film of last year, in which Mescal starred.

Its badness lies in the screenplay, adapted by Davis and writer Iain Glen, from his own novel, which fundamentally fails to realise that cinema and literature are two different forms. Given the paucity of the story, one assumes the novel’s prose does a lot of heavy lifting.

The saying goes that man’s reach should exceed his grasp, but Foe reaches for everything and grasps at nothing. Jeff Bezos may have gone into space, but his company Amazon, whose subsidiary MGM are set to distribute the film, have made a film that detonated on the launchpad.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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