In a landscape marred by ecological hardships and shrouded in dystopian shades, Foe, directed by Garth Davis and adapted from Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, attempts to paint a panorama of anguish, mystery and existential dread. With Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal and Aaron Pierre at the forefront, the film navigates through a terrain of domesticity entangled with environmental and interpersonal discord. The film does excel in the visual space, but meanders through its scenic wasteland in search of a connection with characters so despondent they repel more than engage.
Foe starts with Hen (Ronan) crying in the shower. Her voice-over provides some commentary as she talks about her dull life with her husband Junior (Mescal). Earth is in disarray as tornado systems are wreaking havoc all over the planet, while famine and drought decimate this dystopian future. In the evening, Junior wakes to bright headlights peering through his second-floor window as a car approaches their farm property. There is a knock at the door, and Junior grabs a shotgun but Hen decides against using it. The man at the door is Terrance (Pierre), who works for the Outermore company that specializes in interplanetary habitation. Basically, they send people to a space station to live for two years.
Hen remains on edge during the interaction, almost like she’s hiding a secret, and Junior accuses her of signing the two up for something they never discussed. However, Terrance is only there for Junior. He’s been chosen to live on the space station as they need strong men who can handle the travel. The rules are, if he doesn’t go, he’ll be jailed or worse. After the man leaves, Junior confronts Hen because he suspects she knows more about the visit than she lets on. Now the young couple are saddled with this dilemma, but seemingly let it go until Terrance returns a year later to ask again about traveling. This time, he surprises them with the news that in his absence, he will be replaced with a clone to keep his wife company while he’s away.
Foe narrates the story of two beautifully young individuals, marred by narrative inertia. They move through the plot with the sluggishness of a turtle deciding to walk from the U.S. to Antarctica. They perform inconsequentially menial tasks that add nothing to the story except to pad the runtime until Terrance arrives. His presence adds a whole other level of incomprehension, as he is the catalyst for antagonism, where Hen and Junior unravel into chaos. This left me craving coherence or sweet release from the experience entirely.
The editing contributes to the overbearing sense of confusion. Scenes are disjointed and severed abruptly, rendering a dissonance between sequences that further aggravates the narrative disconnect. This makes each scene feel isolated, and lacking connective tissue to its counterparts. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the visuals, notably the cinematography by Mátyás Erdély, and the directional finesse of Davis. Their collaboration captures the desolate, windswept landscapes, with the dusky shots emerging as the saving grace.
The culmination of Foe deviates from the book, adding dimensions of unwarranted melodrama that reaches for profoundness that exceeds its grasp, resulting in underwhelming revelations that overshadow the story’s trajectory. The characters seem to be wandering shadows, their soullessness reflected in their actions, making me question why I should care about their lives.
Foe‘s stunning visuals can’t save it from its overwhelming irregularities. The cinematic adaptation of the source material should make for an engaging experience, but instead losses its essence in the pursuit of Davis establishing his personal visual style. The result in a film drowned in under-delivered aspirations and aggressive narrative ennui, when the focus should be on how climate change can change people for better or for worse.
Festival: New York Film Festival (Spotlight)
Release date: October 6, 2023
Director: Garth Davis
Screenwriters: Garth Davis and Iain Reid
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, and Aaron Pierre
Running time: 1 hr 50 min