In promotional materials, Foe described itself as a “sci-fi psychological thriller.” I’m a big fan of both sci-fi and psychological thrillers, so I was excited for this one. Unfortunately, Foe delivered very few – if any – thrills. And the sci-fi? Well. The kindest word that comes to mind is “underwhelming.”
Foe takes place in 2065, in a world where Earth has been ravaged by significant climate change. The story follows a couple, Hen (Saoirse Ronan) and Junior (Paul Mescal), who live alone on a secluded bit of farmland. One day, a government employee (Aaron Pierre) shows up and says Junior is being recruited to assist in a mission to colonize space. Also, while Junior’s in space, Hen will live with what’s essentially a government-issued clone of her husband, programmed to have all of his memories. The government guy needs to stay with the couple for a while to observe Junior and run some tests to prepare him. In doing so, he begins driving a wedge in Hen and Junior’s already rocky relationship.
Even Oscar-nominated actors can’t sell these characters
It’s hard for me to even know where to start to describe how much I disliked Foe. The characters, the relationships, the sci-fi, the story… every element feels poorly executed. Not to mention, it fails to do the one thing I ask a movie to do: entertain me.
But I’m a writer, so let’s start with that. The dialogue in Foe is so stilted and strange, it’s sometimes comically bad. Which is doubly painful, since the vast majority of this movie is just two people talking in a farmhouse room, or a field, or a slightly different farmhouse room, or a slightly different field. The only break you get from the dialogue being so awkward is when someone instead offers up a cringeworthy line clearly meant to be “deep.” (“I’ll leave a blank letter that says both everything and nothing” / “Imagine we’re looking down into the sky instead of up at it.”) Ugh.
The writing is so poor, not even Ronan and Mescal — two incredibly talented, Oscar-nominated performers — can save it. You can tell these actors are giving the project their all, but nothing seems to land emotionally like the movie clearly intends. Now, a lack of emotional connection and investment is a problem for any story. But it’s especially a problem when a movie’s plot hinges on the romance between its leads.
That’s another huge issue in Foe. The movie waits nearly an hour to even introduce the AI doppelganger concept (and as such, the so-called “sci-fi thriller” part of the plot). Instead, it attempts to draw viewers into Junior and Hen’s everyday life and love.
And basically, it fails to do that.
Maybe it’s the weird, disconnected dialogue. Maybe it’s the fact that at every turn, it just seems like Hen and Junior aren’t very good for each other. Whatever the case, I’m just not invested in their relationship, no matter how many moody sex scenes the film throws in to convince us they’re in love.
‘Foe’ fumbles the simplest of sci-fi conceits
So, the writing, characters, and central relationship struggles in Foe. But is the sci-fi aspect at least cool? Engaging? Interesting?
And worse, it’s clear that Foe desperately wants to be interesting, thought-provoking sci-fi. But everything from the set-up to the execution goes awry here. We don’t even get any sci-fi until halfway through the film, minus the declaration that it’s taking place in the near-future.
I’m left to assume that the introduction of the government-made clone doppelganger plan was supposed to provide an exciting twist to the story… Except that the concept of AI “people” was introduced at the very beginning of the movie in its written intro to the world. So you spend the entire first half of the movie waiting for the robots to show up.
When Terrance (Pierre) finally reappears to make the “big reveal” – that when Junior leaves on his space mission, he’ll be replaced by a “biological duplicate” – it doesn’t feel like an earth-shattering revelation. It just feels like… oh, finally, we’re getting to the point.
Similarly, by the time the story unveils its final “twist” – again, a term I use loosely – everything still feels vaguely hollow. Not only does the audience struggle to connect with and care about the characters, it’s also a struggle to parse out the point of the sci-fi and what you’re supposed to take away from the whole thing.
If the government really cares about these AI bio-duplicates, what’s the space mission got to do with anything? If they knew they had the capacity to give these clone things a person’s memories and encourage them to act with emotion, why would they “never dream it could experience love”? It feels like Foe just tried to recycle a pretty standard sci-fi trope about artificial intelligence and humanity and made a mess of it, somehow making zero impact.
Just… watch something else, ok?
Overall, I would describe Foe as exhaustingly dull. This movie clocks in at just under two hours, and it felt like at least twice that. Not only do you have to wait until about the halfway point for the “real” story to start, this is one of those movies that also drags out its ending. I truly thought (hoped) it was over at least three times before the credits actually rolled.
Not only does the sci-fi concept not have anything new or interesting to say, it doesn’t even present a tried-and-true concept well. Despite Ronan and Mescal’s best efforts, Hen and Junior’s relationship never connects. And any attempt at dramatic thrills is undercut by awkward writing and a lack of investment in the characters. Frankly, I couldn’t wait for this one to be over.
Foe premieres in theaters October 6.