Those who sound the alarm on climate change are certain that the Earth will soon become uninhabitable. Whether those who don’t agree actually believe otherwise or just aren’t concerned about future generations is unclear. But certain people are actively preparing for what’s to come while others are living out their lives without a sense that things will soon change. Foe presents an intriguing if familiar and flawed look at two people whose existence is completely and irreversibly transformed by a need to look ahead.
Hen (Saoirse Ronan) and Junior (Paul Mescal) live somewhere in the American Midwest in 2065. They both go to work – her to a diner, him to a factory – each day, but otherwise live an isolated existence with just each other. When Terrance (Aaron Pierre) arrives one night, he informs them that Junior has been selected for a space station mission designed to help the future of civilization. Initially unwilling to take him seriously, the couple soon accepts that this is happening, and must prepare for Junior’s departure so that, as Terrance puts it, Hen can be well taken care of in his absence.
Foe is based on the novel of the same name by Iain Reid and covers an area of science fiction that deals with remnants of a past that’s not all that technological and is fast approaching an extinction event that will require tremendous creativity to ensure human survival. It’s not exactly a retrofuturistic concept, but could be considered one if the present that audiences know today were to stop and stay the same for some while forward-thinking, space-facing advances are made elsewhere. Hen still bikes to work and Junior drives a truck, and Terrance casually climbing into his self-driving car to head home after their first meeting feels like something they couldn’t imagine, or something they haven’t bothered to concern themselves with since they don’t feel a need to evolve and brace for what’s coming.
Ronan and Mescal are both incredibly talented performers whose careers are on the rise. After getting an early start with Atonement, Ronan has consistently delivered inviting, thoughtful turns, and she embeds considerable personality into Hen, who doesn’t often stand up for herself but seems to have a dreams she hasn’t ever been able to fulfill. Mescal, who has been extremely busy lately touring film festivals with Aftersun, Carmen, and All of Us Strangers, puts on an American accent and a strong dose of toxic masculinity to play someone who purports to devote himself fully to his wife but doesn’t always fully grasp what she actually could want.
The premise of Foe is an intriguing one that starts out well enough, but the direction of the plot is both predictable and somewhat unconvincing. Terrance smiles frequently and seems all too laidback about the significance of what this couple is having to go through, and there’s something eerie about how okay he is with all of it. Less responsibly, he doesn’t seem to consider the consequences of what their separation will mean or the implications of what he intends to put into place to ensure that Hen will be cared for while her husband is away.
Those who have enjoyed films like Dual, Moon, The Island, or Never Let Me Go will find recognizable story elements here. The score by Oliver Coates, Park Jiha, and Agnes Obel plays constantly, serving to make every scene feel nostalgic in nature and the couple’s relationship long-lasting and haunting. That doesn’t leave any time to slow down and truly experience any of it, and when twists occur to reshape the narrative, it feels as if something has been lost in transition and can’t fully be located again. This is a film that works better as an idea than in its execution, captivating and enticing but ultimately unfulfilling.
Foe makes its world premiere in the Spotlight section at the 61st New York Film Festival and will be released theatrically on October 6th.