Talk about an Oedipus complex. Hallam Foe, the title character of this strange and striking film, ends each day by saying good night to a poster-sized photograph of his mum. He stalks and then starts a relationship with a girl who’s a dead ringer for his dead mother. Just for good measure, he also engages in a little hanky-panky with his stepmother.
Adolescence is difficult, but the 17-year-old Mr. Foe is having a particularly tough time of it.
Directed and co-written by David Mackenzie (whose expert 2003 feature “Young Adam” also explored the dark side of sexuality) and based on the novel “Hallam Foe” by Peter Jinks, this Scottish film is at once creepy and touchingly intimate. The mystery at its core isn’t what really happened to Hallam’s mother, which we eventually learn, but rather what will happen to the disturbed Hallam.
Hallam (Jamie Bell) is convinced that his stepmother, Verity (Clare Forlani) killed his mother and made it look like a swimming accident. She had been Julius Foe’s (Ciaran Hinds) secretary before they got married. As you can imagine, stepmother and stepson don’t get along. So when Verity discovers that Hallam has been spying on everyone they know, she uses the information to get him out of the rambling castle in which the Foes live in the Scottish Highlands - but not before a disturbing scene in which Hallam’s conflicting feelings about his father’s beautiful wife come to the surface.
The loner heads off to Edinburgh and continues to live vicariously and obsessively through others. His penchant for voyeurism will force him finally to stop being a mere spectator of life when he sees a young woman who looks astonishingly like his mother. Kate (Sophia Myles) runs the human resources section of a grand hotel, and Hallam gets a job there to insinuate himself into her life. (The homeless Hallam rather needs the cash, too.)
“I like creepy guys,” Kate tells Hallam. She’s in luck - but has no idea just what she’s gotten herself into. It doesn’t seem that Hallam does, either.
Mr. Bell made his feature-film debut as the title character in 2000’s “Billy Elliot” and has appeared in just a handful of movies since then. With “Mister Foe,” he really comes into his own. Hallam Foe does quite a few rather nasty things, but Mr. Bell’s engaging and empathetic performance makes him a character we can’t stop caring about.
Whether he’s piercing his own ear so he can wear one of his beloved mother’s earrings, cleverly blackmailing Kate’s married lover or simply learning the hard way how to grow up, Hallam Foe is a special young man who finally comes to life in his 18th year in this deeply felt film.
TITLE: “Mister Foe”
RATING: Not rated (Adult themes and brief nudity)
CREDITS: Directed by David Mackenzie. Written by Mr. Mackenzie and Ed Whitmore based on the novel “Hallam Foe” by Peter Jinks.
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
WEB SITE: misterfoe.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS