Director: Garth Davis
Writer: Garth Davis, Iain Reid (screenplay), Iain Reid (novel)
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, Aaron Pierre
Producers: Kerry Kohansky-Roberts, Emile Sherman
Music: Oliver Coates, Park Jiha, Agnes Obel
Cinematographer: Mátyás Erdély
Editor: Peter Sciberras
Running time: 108mins
What’s the story: In 2065, Junior (Mescal) is selected for a mission working in space. His wife Henrietta (Ronan) will have someone very special to keep her company.
What’s the verdict: Garth Davis is best known for his winning Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie and amusing pop promos. Disappointing then to see him deliver something as laughably po-faced and illogical as Foe. Arriving soon after Gareth Edwards’ The Creator, this is a similarly uninspired AI tale that leaves you listing the ways this could have been more engaging. Honestly, Black Mirror has done all this far better at least twice.
Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan are Junior and Henrietta (“Hen”), a married American couple living in the dustbowl Midwest of the year 2065. Water and habitable land have become the world’s most precious resources (although the couple appear to have thousands of acres to themselves).
Into their lives comes Terrance (Pierre), a government official who informs Junior he has been selected for an extraordinary mission. A vast space station is being built to house humanity. Paul is part of an ongoing analysis studying whether people can stand the rigours of life off-world. While he is gone, an android resembling Junior will provide Hen with company. Terrance must live with the couple in order to observe Paul, so his synthetic replacement is as lifelike as possible. But will the radical counselling sessions and the prospect of Junior’s imminent departure reveal cracks in the couple’s bond?
Intellectually insipid and emotionally adolescent, Foe resembles a final year student project that got real lucky with budget and casting. Opening promisingly enough, the depiction of a climate change ravaged near-future is well realised. But Foe soon descends into sub-Marriage Story bickering and subplots that put the sigh into sci-fi. Come the climactic revelations and a slew of false endings, character logic collapses and plot holes rip open, as vast as that space station hanging like a new constellation in the sky.
Ronan and Mescal, two exciting actors, are good soldiers and deliver committed performances. Yet much of Foe resembles early rehearsal footage of actors trying to find their characters. Mescal’s monologue about the lunch habits of his co-workers is a gigglesome misfire, and Ronan’s late-in-the-film meltdown might be the closest we’ve seen her to giving a duff performance.
Davis appears to be reaching for the atmosphere of such 1970s dystopian sci-fi as Phase IV and Demon Seed. But while the artificial is fully on display here, intelligence looks to be absent.