|Garth Davis, Iain Reid
|Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, Aaron Pierre
|November 2, 2023
A few weeks ago, The Creator was released in Australian cinemas – an ambitious science-fiction movie set in the year 2070. In a world ravaged by wars, inequality, and climate change, artificial intelligence was being used to alleviate problems. While I had issues with the film’s characters (they weren’t particularly interesting), director Gareth Edwards did a solid job in visualising the scenario. It relied heavily on visual effects and production design to show big details (the destruction of Los Angeles) and little details (the moving hollow cylinders which are part of a robot’s head).
Foe is also a sci-fi flick set around that period (the year in 2065) and while it too is centred on a dystopian version of Earth riddled by a failing climate, the approach of Brisbane-born writer-director Garth Davis (Lion) is noticeably different. Davis has drawn from the 2018 novel authored by Canadian Iain Reid and taken the “less is more” approach. Almost all of the film takes place inside a rundown house in a rural, remote part of the United States simply referred to as “The Midwest.”
We’re told the world is on the verge of destruction, and that fresh water and habitable land have become the most precious commodities, but we only see things through the sheltered eyes of the film’s two leading characters. There are no drone-like views of destroyed cities, or montages of humans ransacking grocery stores. Instead, we follow the day-to-day lives of a married, childless couple known as Henrietta and Junior. They are embodied by two of the finest actors working today – Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and Paul Mescal (Aftersun).
Some early banter between the pair helps illustrate their relationship (it’s not perfect but it’s workable) and then, part way through the opening act, Davis throws in a first twist. An odd stranger (Pierre) rocks up to their house in the middle of the night and tells Junior that he’s won a national lottery and been selected to live on a luxurious space station for several years. It’s part of a government program to preserve humanity should the Earth become fully uninhabitable. It is an offer Junior should consider and if so, is he prepared to leave his wife?
There’s more to this tale but, like many decent dramas, it’s best you know as little as possible going in. While I admired the two lead performances, I was underwhelmed by the film’s depth and thought it would ask more questions of the audience. Again, without giving anything away, it’s too “one note” and needed to offer up more interesting subplots and character power-shifts than relying on quirky twists. I’ve not read the novel but perhaps it offers more?
Garth Davis has proven his talent as a filmmaker, as evidenced by the success of Lion in 2016, but Foe is unlikely to generate as much in the way of public engagement.