FOE. Muted science fiction, which could use less… mutedness [REVIEW]
Paul Mescal has been riding a powerful wave for several years now, which after this year’s premiere of Gladiator 2, may even gain more strength. And it’s probably him, rather than his long-time screen partner Saoirse Ronan, who will be the attraction for most potential viewers of the film Foe, a intimate science fiction directed by Garth Davis. However, fans of the Irish actor’s talent may feel a bit disappointed because although Mescal delivers a brilliant performance here, the Enemy itself lacks a bit of character.
The main characters of the film are Junior and his wife Henrietta, who in 2065 run a farm in seclusion. Drinking water and uncontaminated soil are increasingly scarce, the most precious resources, and cities are overcrowded, so world governments have decided to construct a space station in Earth’s orbit, to which only qualified individuals selected by lottery are sent. One of them turns out to be Junior, who learns about this after an unexpected visit from government worker Terrance (Aaron Pierre). Terrance steps into the lives of the protagonists to learn about their relationship and also to properly prepare… a substitute for Junior. It turns out that when the hero goes to the space station, instead of him, a perfectly prepared clone of her partner will appear in Henrietta’s life.
At this stage, Junior’s departure seems highly problematic – not only can he not take his beloved with him, but both must face the thought of the hero being replaced by a programmed machine. Enemy without unnecessary delay thickens the atmosphere of conflict between the spouses, heightened not only by the vision of an imminent separation, but also by the presence of an intrusive official who forces the characters into a level of honesty bordering on exhibitionism. Junior and Hen find themselves in a dilemma – the government does not allow the possibility of refusing the flight to the space station, and with each week of Junior’s mission preparations, the spouses feel more and more exploited. At first, it seems that Garth Davis wants to turn Foe into a genuine psychological thriller – Mescal skillfully portrays a passionate, impulsive character, giving the impression of brutality – but quite quickly the director begins to drift towards a metaphysical melodrama. However, the atmosphere reminiscent of Terrence Malick seems unjustified here, as it turns out that Davis is primarily interested in creating a portrait of a suffering marriage. We won’t learn much about the sources of this suffering – we can only be sure that it started long before Terrance’s unexpected visit.
Those who expected Foe to explore typical science fiction themes will be thoroughly disappointed by Davis’s film. The SF genre convention serves only as a minimal framework here, determining events to a minimal extent – ultimately, the focus is on the relationship between Henrietta and Junior, deeply unstable but still burning with the flame of love and attachment. And although there is no doubt that the two main characters share something special, the creators too often succumb to the aforementioned Malickian mannerism, which unnecessarily elevates the relationship between Henrietta and Junior, giving it an excessively dramatic dimension. The dialogues lack naturalness, and the constant confrontations of the characters with each other and with the uninvited government representative often seem to lead nowhere. Enemy is a film that wants to be a deep melodrama but ends up being at best a feeble allegory about two young people whose love is tested by adverse circumstances. This love doesn’t convince to such an extent that it’s difficult to root for Henrietta and Junior – even in the highly emotional finale.
Foe presents its story with detachment and must be met with a similar reaction. It’s hard to “get into” Davis’s film because it offers neither genuine science fiction content in large doses nor convincing emotions. We find high-level acting here (Ronan doesn’t yield to Mescal) and a bit of mystery, which promises a lot but ultimately delivers little. From this intimate science fiction drama, at times, a dreadful emptiness emerges, and even the best acting performances can’t fill it.