Welcome to the life of Brit teen Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell), whose many odd habits include using his late mother’s makeup as war paint and turning a pair of binoculars on women breastfeeding babies, sexual acts and whatever else he can find.
Ever since his mum, Sarah, was found at the bottom of the loch beside their home, Hallam has refused to consider the incident a suicide but instead blames dad’s new wife Verity. Plus, he lusts after new mom despite his suspicions and writes about his fantasies up in the tree house where he has decided to live. Malajusted doesn’t begin to cover it.
When a violent confrontation with step-mom turns disturbingly intimate, Hallam decides to bail from his family’s large estate and flee the repercussions. He ends up in the city, sleeping in a derelict part of the hotel and making money working a grimy kitchen job.
When he meets a woman who resembles (who else?) dear dead mum, he turns his voyeuristic gaze toward her and becomes involved in a nasty sexual triangle of blackmail and adultery, all while trying to get Verity turned in for the murder he is convinced took place.
Jamie Bell, who has done quite a bit of growing since his role as a ballet-dancing youngster in Billy Elliot, turns in an excellent performance as a clearly disturbed young man who veers between creepy beyond redemption and pitifully sad.
I was surprised by a reviewer’s claim that this film was inferior to the slightly silly Shia LeBeouf thriller Disturbia. While decently made, the latter film had a certain tackiness that made it hard to take seriously. The director treats the story of Mister Foe with a seriousness that helps the viewer buy into it.
If I had detected a smirk in the production, it would have sunk fast. Although this movie is ultimately has a riskier construction, is more disquieting, and has better-drawn characters than Disturbia, it was not without scenes of ridiculous implausibility. To prove my point, ladies, I present a scenario.
The Situation: An unbalanced young man grabs you by the throat and accuses you of murder.
a. Try to talk some sense into him.
b. Fight your assailant by poking his eyes, pushing, or kicking him in the balls.
c. Jerk away and scream for help.
d. Consider his closeness liberation for your lust and grope him.
Only a die-hard masochist would pick d, so when the normally rational Verity uses the situation as a chance to cross forbidden boundaries, the originally disturbing situation becomes perversely silly. Do things like that happen outside of S&M soap operas?
I’ve always been a sucker for cinema that avoids formula, so I’ll give the gaping problems in the film a break. I’d say the best thing about the whole movie was Bell, who is an actor worth watching. The director? We’ll see.
By the end, the scarily intriguing character of Hallam avoids seemingly inevitable catastrophe, and the viewer thinks the story would have probably ended in a disaster similar to Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen. Like Ben X, Mister Foe takes the happy route, but since that it’s unlikely to happen except through a director’s mercy, it seems a hollow victory.