After leaving home for Edinburgh, young Hallam (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot” now growing up) arrives to a land of wish-fulfillment, one of much promise. He’s in need of a new object of obsession, now that sis has left for Australia and mom has committed suicide. And he finds one in Kate (Sophia Myles), a kind young woman who employs him despite his inexperience. Dutiful at work as a dishwasher, he becomes deceitful when following Kate home to peep on her – for him, an old habit dying hard.
Hallam’s newfound freedom exists to spite his father (Ciarán Hinds) back home and the opportunistic secretary he remarried (Claire Forlani). Convinced that his stepmother killed his mother, Hallam amazingly never feels threatened out on his own, and even seems immune from danger when peeping on Kate from a steep-pitched roof (nerves of steel, I guess). While hardly credible on paper, this mock-fairy tale reflects Hallam’s cool curiosity about all that towers above him. This Scottish film often pushes for realism, though its stylish tones fall back on whimsy.
Before Edinburgh, he was just as dauntless. During a classy dinner with his family, he looks his stepmother straight in the eye when calling her a w***e. (Later, she retaliates when they have a spontaneous lay after fighting – in the end, a power move to get him to leave home.) When he peeps from a tree at a young couple, his invasion of their privacy isn’t complete until he swings down on a rope to disrupt them. The odd face paint and headgear (some kind of animal skin) he wears for such moments play up his quirkiness to overkill, as if his odd habits weren’t enough. Hallam hardly needs such recycled traits, since youths never go quietly through their comings-of-age. Thanks to Bell’s natural presence, we believe in his character’s irony, and that his confidence could overreach his maturity.
Hallam’s innocent charisma and attention to Kate make this kittenish babe take notice of him, even if she’s sneaking around with a married hotel manager, who spells out villain when he catches Hallam peeping on her. Her surly lover suggests that “Foe” will fly off into a high-concept conflict, as if the film were about to lose trust in itself and start gasping for air. But thankfully this turn isn’t taken, as Hallam’s character is worthy of such a fanciful tale.