In 2065 as Earth loses the ability to sustain life, rural areas are being abandoned, human substitutes have been developed to perform physical labor and life in outer space has become a possibility. Hen (Saoirse Ronan) and Junior (Paul Mescal) continue to live in the remote farmhouse his family has owned for generations, but when we first meet them, Hen is crying in the shower, mourning a marriage that seems to have gone cold. Then late one night, a driverless vehicle approaches and when Terrance (Aaron Pierre, "Old," "Brother") introduces himself as an agent of OuterMore, a new Space Station serving as its own planet, the couple do not know if he is friend or “Foe.”
Laura's Review: C+
After Charlie Kaufman turned Iain Reid’s mind bending relationship novel ‘I’m thinking of Ending Things’ into an equally provocative film, director Garth Davis ("Lion," "Mary Magdalene") attempts the same with Reid’s second work, but his adaptation, cowritten with the author, doesn’t work nearly as well. Ronan and Mescal do not stint on their respective talents for digging deep emotionally, but the film about a disintegrating marriage is wrapped within a clunky sci-fi shell which distracts more than it illuminates.
A really desolate part of Australia stands in for the American Heartland, one which we learn has been largely burned off by corporations. ‘I miss trees,’ Hen says, her antique home standing amidst charred trunks. And yet there seems to be a rekindling in the offing between her and Junior, passion reintroduced albeit on a shaky foundation, Junior often moody and usually found guzzling beer. Still, it is more than enough to see how their love story began. Then Terrance arrives and, despite trying to spin things in a positive manner, makes it clear that Junior is being forcibly recruited to travel to OuterMore for several years and that after allowing the couple some time alone, he will be moving in to observe them, mainly, he says, to ensure Hen is taken care of while Junior is away.
After a honeymoon of sorts, Terrance returns far earlier than he had stated and what follows are some bizarrely intimate one-on-one sessions, some with Junior so intense Hen forces her way in. Terrance will also draw out some hard truths from Hen as she sits playing piano in the basement, because, she says, Junior is upset by what her music reveals. But while we certainly learn a lot about Hen (short for Henrietta as well as a Scottish endearment) and maybe a bit less about Junior, Terrance remains an enigma, at first friendly, then possibly too friendly with Hen before finally becoming menacing.
A third act twist, which would be a spoiler to reveal, casts everything we’ve seen in an entirely new perspective, but while this device works for the marital drama it makes little sense in the scheme of the film’s sci-fi trappings other than as a perverse and unnecessarily cruel experiment and as a way to neatly wrap up one side of the story.
In fact, there are a number of issues with the film’s sci-fi aspect that do nothing for its overall clarity. We’ve told that rural areas are just about abandoned and indeed, Hen and Junior live alone in the midst of a wasteland, and yet she is revealed to have a job waitressing at a large family style restaurant close enough to bicycle to which always appears full of customers – where have they all come from? - while Junior works at an industrial chicken farm/processing plant. Too much must be taken on faith, such as the entire OuterMore program’s idiosyncrasies. It is unclear why so much is being burned in a world clearly ravaged by climate change, yet director of photography Mátyás Erdély ("Son of Saul") makes the most of it, his visuals both eerie and romantic. Perhaps the standout of the film’s craft is its perpetually evolving score by "Aftersun's" Oliver Coates with Park Jiha and Agnes Obel, one which continually introduces new instruments to remarkable effect.
“Foe” is an ambitious film that never really comes together, but those individual pieces that fail to add up are often noteworthy.
Amazon Studios releases "Foe" in theaters on 10/6/23, expanding on 10/13/23.