Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Mister Foe (Hallam Foe)

Review by David Tredler

Hallam Foe is a strange 17 year-old young lad. Living in a beautiful mansion of the Scottish countryside with his dad and step-mom, the boy is an iconoclast, a lonely peeping tom observing others at a distance, staying in his own world. A strong argument with his father about his step-mom, whom he accuses of having killed his mother years earlier, causes Hallam’s sudden departure from the family home, exiling himself to Edinburgh. Despite his young age and lack of any competence, he finds there a job in a luxury hotel, where a young woman who reminds him of his mother works.

How hard it is nowadays, for a filmmaker, to direct a motion picture dealing with voyeurism, oedipal complexes and murder suspicions without being labelled a “Hitchcock copycat”. It is impossible not to think of the master of suspense by watching Mister Foe, impossible not to notice the thematic similarities and winks to such classics as Rebecca, Psycho or Vertigo. Yet David McKenzie, a Scottish director whose films usually cast more shadows than lights, creates a story that finds its own identity, outrunning movies that are just modern remixes of Hitchcock’s successes.

A disconcerting portrait of adolescence, Mister Foe exudes a dark charm. The central character, a disturbing yet appealing teenager, constantly on the edge, walks through the film elusively. Carried by the talent of Jamie Bell, who has led an audacious career since his Billy Elliot debut and offers the character his grace and youth, Hallam oscillates between madness and sympathy. Moving forward like a blind man, only guided by his compulsions and his obsession for his deceased mother, he is a Hitchcockian character par excellence, to whom McKenzie gives the fresh face of modern youth, trying to extract himself from the convention, to extract himself from the mold society conditions him to be in.

If Mister Foe fascinates so much, it’s also thanks to the care brought to the atmosphere of the film, the enchantment caused by the nocturnal Edinburgh, the aerial and spleen score, the neat hand-held photography, close to the characters. This teen wandering is one of those unexpected films, “small” on the paper, but taking a surprising space inside of us once we left it. Haunting.

4 / 5 stars

Review by Rebecca Roth

Two years after his mother’s death, Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is still searching for someone to blame. He begins to suspect his new stepmother, formerly his father’s secretary, Verity (Claire Forlani). Hallam’s father (Ciaran Hinds) and stepmother begin to make clear that Hallam needs to grow up and leave their home, a directive that he stubbornly fights. In a one-two punch, Verity finds Hallam’s diary exposing both his discovery of his father’s cheating prior to his mother’s death and his “peeping tom” tendencies; as a consequence, Verity subsequently incriminates herself in his mother’s death and seduces him. 

Confused and distraught after the encounter with his stepmom, Hallam leaves for Edinburgh where he finds a job in a hotel kitchen. He becomes entranced by the woman who hires him, Kate (Sophia Myles) – who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to his deceased mother. With nowhere to go, Hallam wanders until he discovers the abandoned attic of the hotel where he works, which is greatly improved by the view directly into Kate’s skylight. The dynamic between Kate and Hallam is complicated due to an affair she is taking part in with a co-worker (which both Hallam and the audience are witness to).

Though I am not familiar with Writer/Director David Mackenzie’s past work, he is someone I will surely be keeping an eye on in the future. Mackenzie’s method of storytelling is distinctly reminiscent of Gus Van Sant. For like Van Sant, he gently draws the audience into feeling significant empathy for the villain by making them painfully vulnerable and giving faults which are endearing rather than egregious. Foe is a very vermin-like character; he spends much of his time scurrying about on rooftops, spying on some most intimate moments, yet when confronted head on with the possibility of intimacy himself, he makes every attempt to escape – first claiming he’s gay, then that he’s a virgin and too afraid.

There is a great contrast between the (almost constant) physical nudity and tightly shrouded emotions of others, with Hallam’s naked emotions (which he is perpetually exploring by writing diaries) and physical awkwardness. Similar to his turn in Nicolas Nickleby (2002), Jamie Bell plays Hallam as so innocent and downtrodden that you can hardly prevent yourself from forgiving him his idiosyncrasies. His genuineness when telling Kate about how much he enjoys the work he does dishwashing, is utterly heart-melting as he seems grateful to the world as a whole for simply being there.

I rarely rave about indie soundtracks (if I have to hear the virtues of the Garden State or Juno soundtracks one more time, so help me…), but this one is really great and has music I would actually want to listen to aside from the movie. The soundtrack is full of modern alternative, including a track from Franz Ferdinand specifically written for this movie. The upbeat but noticeably dark music is a perfect fit for the complexities in the film.

Great actors, great directing, and a killer soundtrack make this a must-see indie.

4 ½  / 5 stars

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