Australian director Garth Davis adapts Ian Reid’s novel (along with the author) into a melodramatic and gorgeous-looking three-hander that takes its lead from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in its depiction of marital woes. Set in the near future, Foe explores its themes of climate crisis, AI anxieties and loss of humanity through a devastating depiction of the ebbs and flows of a relationship in crisis.
Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan star as couple Junior and Hen respectively who are living an isolated existence out on arid farmland due to extreme droughts. When government employee Terrance (an imposing Aaron Pierre) turns up unannounced at their home one night to inform Junior of his conscription to a year-long space programme designed to test humans’ ability to live off Earth, he upends the couple’s life.
Though set in the American Midwest 2065 (Australia acting as stand-in), the production design, costume and soundtrack harks back to the 1960s, as does the old-fashioned dynamic between Junior and Hen. The film has a strong hold on feelings of despair, paranoia and suffocation which Ronan and Mescal in typical form handle with expertise. They share great chemistry too. However, there are a few bum notes, especially in a monologue that just doesn’t sit right within the film despite a dedicated turn from Mescal – you’ll know it when it happens.
Davis and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély bring a liberating energy to the vast landscapes, including jaw-dropping aerial shots of the pink lakes of Western Australia, that surround the microcosm of human drama that plays out in the farmhouse. What is particularly moving, thanks to the strong performances, is the way in which the film taps into the way the human brain is wired to perseverance and resilience. Foe deals with prescient ideas concerning manipulation and freedom in compelling ways even if it doesn’t tie everything together satisfactorily.
Foe was seen and reviewed at the London Film Festival. It will be released in cinemas on 20 October