Foe (2023)
January 29, 2024 11:30 PM - Subscribe

Hen and Junior farm a secluded piece of land that has been in Junior's family for generations, but their quiet life is thrown into turmoil when an uninvited stranger shows up at their door with a startling proposal.

Academy Award nominees Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal star in Foe, a haunting exploration of marriage and identity set in an uncertain world. Hen and Junior farm a secluded piece of land that has been in Junior's family for generations, but their quiet life is thrown into turmoil when an uninvited stranger (Aaron Pierre) shows up at their door with a startling proposal. Based on best-selling author Iain Reid's novel, directed by Garth Davis, and co-written by Davis and Reid, Foe's mesmerizing imagery and persistent questions about the nature of humanity (and artificial humanity) bring the not-too-distant future to luminous life.

Wendy Ide: The latest from director Garth Davis (Lion) is too clunkily contrived and disingenuous to engage audiences fully, and too reliant on mood over ideas – a parched sand-and-dust colour palette; lots of despairing, sweat-glistening sex scenes – to add much to the human/robot intersection already thoroughly mined by films such as AI: Artificial Intelligence, Blade Runner and After Yang. But for all this, Mescal and Ronan are captivating: her watchful, raw-nerved longing; his stinging sense of betrayal. It almost eases us past an overwrought final twist. Almost, but not quite.

Ella Kemp:

What follows could be dismissed as Black Mirror-esque: could you — would you — love an AI version of your partner? But the story, from novelist Iain Reid — who impressed with another complex psychological romantic drama I’m Thinking Of Ending Things — earns its twists and ultimate sense of despair. Their doomed relationship is gloomily familiar, despite convincing chemistry and moments of sincere vulnerability. The questions of dwindling passion and what shape loyalty must take are fascinating, and Mescal and Ronan are among this generation’s best actors to convey such pain.

If anything, Foe is plagued by the climate it exists in. Surely, few people are not worrying about such existential questions — Can I trust you? Can I trust myself? Is it even worth it anymore? Your patience for yet another screen romance to worry about may be drastically tested at this point. Still, if you can face it, this one’s just about worth asking those difficult questions.

Katie Smith-Wong: 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.

posted by Carillon (3 comments total)
my first reaction is: this is what films are made to do

not sure if the movie lives up to the trailer, didn't read the review comments posted, but the trailer did its job
posted by elkevelvet at 11:33 AM on January 30

I didn’t love this as a movie, but having read I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I think I would enjoy the book. Assuming the book doesn’t have such little faith in the audience as to start with a Dark City style title card that explains to you exactly the mystery you’re about to see. (And then I got double-annoyed when they did it again at the end, making sure you know that the Hen who comes back is not the real Hen by showing the real Hen out and about.)

But it was definitely lovely to behold, I enjoyed all the performances, and my partner and I kept thinking about and discussing the story into the next day.
posted by ejs at 12:13 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

I found this to work a little better as a novel than as a movie. The plot was basically the same, but it was a lot harder for me to avoid the "wait, why would they go to all this trouble" of it all when seeing everything play out. In particular, I think it's helpful to be completely chained to Junior's perspective in that regard. Really great performances though.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:33 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]

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