Film review: ‘FOE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Based on Ian Reid’s 2018 novel, the dystopian sci fi drama, Foe offers an intriguing premise but too often delivers it in a dull fashion.

Set in the year 2065, the film depicts a world in which our worst fears about the impacts of climate change have been realised. Global drought has almost annihilated agriculture so governments have begun a program of migrating people to space stations orbiting the planet.  Eking out an existence on the ailing earth are young couple Henrietta (Hen) (Saoirse Ronan) and the oddly named Junior (Aftersun’s Paul Mescal) who live on a farm amid the parched landscape of the American Midwest (although it was filmed in Winton, Victorian and South Australia).  One night a stranger named Terrance (British actor Aaron Pierre) arrives with a disturbing message.  Junior has been conscripted to spend the next few years aboard a space station, meaning he will have to leave Hen behind on the farm. Shocked and initially reluctant to comply, Hen and Junior discover that there is an even stranger and more confronting aspect to this arrangement that will severely test their already fractious marriage. Many reviews have revealed this but apart from suggesting that it may involve a play on words with the film’s title, I think it’s better left as a surprise.

As a piece of high concept sci fi, this could have made a potent and subversive 45-minute Twilight Zone or Black Mirror episode.  Stretched to feature length, though, the story feels padded and the sections between major plot points are often ponderous.  Even though it runs for 108 minutes it feels about three hours long. This isn’t helped by murky cinematography which makes interior scenes distractingly hazy and glum looking.  To their credit though, director Garth Davis and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély fashion some stunning outdoor shots of the desolate landscape of vast fields and salt lakes.

As much as a film about approaching environmental calamities and future technology, this is about a strained relationship.  Almost marooned on their remote farm, tensions between Junior and Hen have apparently been mounting for some time.  This combination of scientific prediction and personal drama had fascinating potential but is undermined by the the mostly unengaging characters. Junior, in particular, doesn’t generate the empathy needed for us to feel for his situation and he often comes across as irritatingly whiny.  As Hen, Saoirse Ronan typically does her best with the available material but there’s insufficient scope for her character to develop.  A potentially interesting subplot about her confronting her appointed role as woman within a patriarchal society isn’t explored sufficiently. Aaron Pierre’s Terrance is meant to be a divisive figure but his perpetual smug grin and arrogant manner are so obnoxious there’s no room for much needed nuance in his character.

The strength of the premise and moments of stylistic flair make this film watchable but given its potential, Foe is a slight disappointment.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Sci Fi/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Garth Davis.

Release date: 2nd Nov 2023.

Running time: 108 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm on 88.3 Southern FM.


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