The first collaboration of the two most celebrated young Irish talents, Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal, has long since been anticipated and finally presented itself in the form of science-fiction thriller Foe. Australian director Garth Davis’s (Lion, Mary Magdalene) adaptation of the eponymous novel by Iain Reid (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) premiered at the New York Film Festival and is currently enjoying a limited cinema release before hitting digital platforms in November.
In 2065, married couple Henrietta (Ronan) and Junior (Mescal) are living “the old way of life” on a remote farm on a doomed planet Earth. An unwelcome side effect to their self-sufficiency is that Junior’s manual skills make him a person of interest to the government, who draft men to work in outer space. To make his inevitable absence easier for Hen, an artificial version of Junior should remain with her.
The feature suffers from egregious pacing issues, spending too much time trying to introduce its characters – and ultimately failing to do so due to their lack of personality. The first thought that comes to mind, when the plot finally establishes itself is: didn’t we just see this Black Mirror episode? But where Beyond the Sea confidently accommodates characterisation, worldbuilding, story and ethical dilemmas in 80 minutes, Foe struggles over 110 minutes to hone even one of these things.
Instead of using the show’s concept as inspiration, Davis skims over the most thought-provoking elements, almost as if to spare the viewer from having to ponder over the piece for too long.
Seemingly confused by the “show, don’t tell” concept, the script decided to do both: tell the audience everything they are being shown (after we see a character shower, the ensuing scene consists of them telling their spouse they have just showered etc).
Metaphors that perhaps work better in its literary setting fall flat on screen: Junior killing poultry at work before coming home to the wife he calls “Hen” has the subtlety of an army tank.
While on the one hand, it makes sense to establish how “old school” these characters are by appealing to the viewer’s understanding of this term, it still feels strange that in a futuristic setting everything, down to the needle drops, is distinctly reminiscent of the 1960s, 100 years in the past of when the story is supposedly taking place.
The most noteworthy element of the performances is the accent work: Ronan and Mescal make for truly convincing Americans. While not weak per se, in other regards, their acting looks a little pale in comparison to their previous bodies of work.
2023 didn’t have a shortage of films tackling the idea of artificial intelligence and its implications for society. Of those, Foe is perhaps the biggest disappointment, as it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to contribute to the conversation.
Foe is released nationwide on 20th October 2023.
Watch the trailer for Foe here: