Adapted by the book of the same name by Iain Reed, Foe is the latest film by Lion director Garth Davis. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal and Aaron Pierre, the film follows Junior (Mescal) and wife Henrietta, known as “Hen” (Ronan), who are facing separation as Junior has been chosen to go to space. Prior to his departure, a stranger called Terrance (Pierre) prepares them with psychological tests, as Hen will be left with a “biological replacement”.
After the recent release of The Creator, audiences and filmmakers have further established the difficulties of resonating with an artificial being, especially one that resembles a close loved one. This further plays into the ongoing real-life debate about how AI can “replace” people so Foe is timely but exhausting, as it simply repeats a premise that audiences have seen before.
Set in 2065, there is a global drought and fresh water and habitable areas have become scarce so the government is moving to transition into space to save humanity and help restore the global climate. A young couple, Hen and Junior, live in a remote farm but share a strained relationship – Hen feels detached from Junior, who is committed to his wife. The relationship becomes strained when Outermore employee Terrance arrives on their doorstep to inform Junior that he has been selected to go to The Installation, a large space station in orbit, and Terrance will stay on the farm to “monitor” the couple.
Despite its sci-fi-inspired premise, the majority of Foe presents itself as a sweeping epic romance, partially due to Mátyás Erdély’s picturesque cinematography and the dramatic score. Hen and Junior’s relationship feels sour at first but fearful of their limited time together, they eventually spend most of the time indulging in intimate and dreamy conversations and passionate sex. All the while, Terrance is a thorn in their side, subjecting Junior to personal questions about his relationship that creates middling bouts of jealousy and anger between the three of them. With the psychological parts of their relationship becoming the focal point of the narrative, the romance (and gratuitous nudity) ultimately overwhelms Foe‘s science-fiction premise, so a narrative loses its promising complexity to reinforce its dull melodrama.
This is no fault of Mescal and Ronan, who have established themselves as solid and captivating actors. Their performances play on the tension of Junior’s circumstances and the threat of Hen living with a “fake” husband, and their chemistry is captivating to a certain degree – they even share some strong scenes with Pierre, whose condescending cheeriness adds an extra layer of discomfort in their isolated home. As a result, the performances are watchable – they are just unsupported by the poor screenplay.
Although Davis worked with Reid to create the screenplay, Foe‘s unimaginative dialogue and predictable plot works against it. In addition, Davis’s direction does not evoke enough emotional power from the screenplay to highlight the fragility from Hen and Junior’s fears of their relationship, as well as the latter surviving space without his wife. The third act, in particular, just feels like a disservice to any emotional investment created by that point, resorting to ambiguity to intentionally raise intrigue but ultimately raise frustrations.
Overall, Foe feels like a letdown by taking a promising premise and its talented cast and creating a misguided romance amid a hollow thriller. Ronan, Mescal and Pierre save this from being a disaster – but deserve better.
Director: Garth Davis, Iain Reid (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, Aaron Pierre
Runtime: 110 minutes
Country: Australia, USA